Last month, the Air Force revealed that five such bombers are in production, which is more than previously thought.
According to Defense News, the five B-21s are in “various stages of production” in California. Northrop had previously said only two were being manufactured.
“We have been living off of bomber fleet investments made many decades ago, but that is rapidly changing,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said, in remarks this week at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference.
“As I speak there are now five test aircraft being manufactured on the B-21 production line at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California,” he said. “You will never hear me make optimistic predictions about programs. All programs have risk and the same is true of the B-21, but at this point at least, the program is making good progress to real fielded capability.”
According to Defense News, the Air Force plans to eventually buy 100 of the B-21s. The scheduled first flight of the jets is in 2022. The Air Force said earlier this year that it would need as many as 258 of the bombers, in the event of a war with Russia.
“When considering theoretical requirements of up to 200-plus bombers to prosecute a penetrating strike mission against a great power such as Russia or China, it is better to err on the side of caution and maintain a healthy complement (24) of backup and attrition aircraft,” report authors Jerry Hendrix, CNAS director of defense studies and Air Force Lt. Col. James Price wrote.
Back in April, photos surfaced of the bomber’s Environmental Protection Shelters.
“Environmental Protection Shelters help extend the life of the aircraft and reduce required maintenance by limiting UV exposure, limiting snow accumulation and melt, and limiting icing/de-icing operations experienced by the aircraft over time,” an Air Force official said at the time. “These shelters also help us generate sorties more quickly by eliminating the need to always have to move aircraft in and out of hangars.”
The Air Force has also said that three bases, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, will service the B-21 Raider once it is operational.
“Major maintenance activities will still be performed indoors in hangars, but the B-21 Raider design will also provide us the flexibility to perform routine maintenance right on the flightline,” an Air Force official said.
Another report earlier this year hinted that the B-21 bomber may offer “breakthrough” levels of stealth.
Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.