The US Air Force is known to be working with Northrop Grumman as the next generation bombers, or what is sometimes referred to as the Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program. The effort has culminated in the B-21 Raider which is expected to enter service by 2026 or 2027.
“When it comes to delivering America’s resolve, the B-21 Raider will be standing by, silent and ready.,” Northrop Grumman says on its website. “We are providing America’s warfighters with an advanced aircraft offering a combination of range, payload, and survivability. The B-21 Raider will be capable of penetrating the toughest defenses to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world. The B-21 is the future of deterrence.”
The site goes on to describe the B-21 Raider as “long-range, highly survivable and capable of carrying a mix of conventional and nuclear ordnance… the B-21 will join the nuclear triad as a visible and flexible nuclear deterrent; supporting national security objectives and assuring our nation’s allies and partners.”
In an interview earlier this month, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall talked a bit about how things will work once the B-21 is operational-namely, it will involve drones as well, and functions that don’t necessarily only involve dropping bombs.
“I’m looking at things that would introduce unmanned platforms [which would] “complement some of our more expensive high-end platforms” [and] “give us the quantity we need at a reasonable cost,” Kendall told Bloomberg News in a recent interview.
This “hybrid force,” according to the Bloomberg piece, is a result of the Air Force not being able to afford “all the piloted bombers and jets it plans.”
“If the service depends on planned purchases of advanced piloted aircraft, we are not going to be able to afford the Air Force—we’ll not be able to have the force structure that we need,” Kendall told Bloomberg.
According to a follow-up by Popular Mechanics, the B-21 Raider could end up as the “quarterback” for drones, possibly even serving as the “mothership” for drone fleets. Popular Mechanics saw this scenario as less aircraft-launched drones, but rather drones that would take off from the ground and link up with planes in the air.
“If the Air Force wants more money for bombers, it will need to provide more justification for them; that will come in the form of new missions. One possibility is for the B-21 to act as a stealthy minelayer, swooping in to drop sea mines at the start of a conflict,” Popular Mechanics said of the scenario. “Quickstrike is a strap-on kit for 500, 1,000, and 2,000-pound aircraft bombs, fitting them with glide fins and a GPS guidance system.”
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.