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B-21 Raider Bomber On Time and Under Budget Has Russia and China Sweating

The B-21 Raider stealth bomber has all the makings of a winner for the U.S. Air Force. And that should make Russia and China very nervous.

B-21 Raider
Shown is a B-21 Raider artist rendering graphic. The rendering highlights the future stealth bomber with Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as the backdrop. Designed to perform long range conventional and nuclear missions and to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, the B-21 will be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad. (U.S. Air Force graphic). This is the third USAF rendering of the B-21 Raider. Note changes in the windshield from previous official renderings.

These are heady times for the B-21 Raider program. All that development work is coming to fruition as one U.S. senator says it will be available for public viewing later this year. Work started on the secretive stealth bomber in 2014 and Air Force watchers have depended upon artist renderings to chart its path to its first unveiling. Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota toured the B-21 plant in Palmdale, California in July. Rounds believes the B-21 could make its maiden flight in 2023. 

Will It Be the Best Bomber Ever?

“The B-21 is one of the most advanced aircraft to ever be developed,” said Rounds in a news release. “We are getting closer to bringing this state-of-the-art platform home to Ellsworth Air Force Base. While much of the information I received on my visit is classified, I am pleased to report the B-21 is on time and on budget. The public can expect the B-21 to be revealed later this year. This aircraft will play a crucial role in the defense of our nation and will have a significant economic impact on the Rapid City area for generations to come.” Rounds also said a real photo of the B-21 will be shown soon. 

South Dakota Will Be Its Home

Rounds is justifiably thrilled that the B-21 is to be based out of Ellsworth in South Dakota. He’s been a congressional champion for the bomber for years as he advocated for the airplane to be based in his home state. Senator John Thune, also of South Dakota, has also been a proponent of the B-21, but Rounds sits on the Armed Services Committee and has a critical role each year in the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act – the policy legislation for all things defense.

Better Than the B-2 Spirit

The Air Force has spent $20 billion on the development of the B-21 that will go through 2027. The airplane is manufactured by Northrop Grumman. The B-21 is planned to be a substantial upgrade of the B-2 Spirit. It will have better stealth attributes and rely on digital tools, modeling, and engineering practices. The B-21 should be more survivable and maneuverable than the B-2. 

Stealth Dominance Is Assured

The stealth coatings on the aircraft are an upgrade too. The B-2 couldn’t sustain scratches and missing patches of the coatings, which hurt stealthiness and created more maintenance requirements. The B-21 stealth coating will be more resilient, according to Steve Sullivan, vice president of the strike division at Northrop Grumman, speaking during an interview with Breaking Defense

Maintenance Times Reduced Due to New Software

The United States currently has around 187 bombers in the fleet but many of those are not ready to execute missions due to maintenance requirements. The B-21, on the other hand, will have easily updated software depending on battlefield conditions and needs, Sullivan said. The software upgrading process will feature cloud computing. This will keep maintenance constraints at a minimum. “We’re working toward the goal of eliminating the typical, long maintenance requirements that modern military aircraft require between missions by building an aircraft that is ready to fly every day,” Sullivan said.

B-21 Pictures

Image: U.S. Air Force

Much to Like, But No Unmanned Wingman

The flying-wing designed B-21 is a conventional and nuclear bomber. It was initially thought to be able to fly with unmanned systems, but that capability was dropped and no loyal wingman drone will be used, so the B-21 can better focus on its ground strike missions. The bomber has modern electronic warfare and countermeasures and will be able to collect its own intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data. 

That Shape Looks Familiar

The fuselage will be shorter than the B-2 because the engine inlet is located closer to the middle of the airframe. The airplane is nearly 66 feet long. The B-21 is very wide with a wingspan of 164 feet. It is 16 feet high, and it weighs over 154,000 pounds without fuel or weapons.  

The wings are swept back aggressively to create better agility and maneuverability. Weapons bays are internal for better radar-evading characteristics.

Not Fast But It Has Great Range

Two Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines push out 15,000 pounds of thrust. The maximum speed is 621 miles per hour. The bomber cruises at 466 miles per hour. The ceiling is nearly 50,000 feet and the airplane’s range is impressive at 6,835 miles.

It Can Deploy the Most Modern Nuclear Weapons 

The bomber carries 50,000 pounds of munitions with nuclear bombs such as the B-61 variable-yield nuclear gravity bomb, the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) nuclear cruise missile, and other conventional precision-guided ordnance like the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile.

Determined to Be Green On Ground Tests 

The B-21 went through successful ground tests this year. It was powered up and its subsystems showed passing marks during the evaluation. The final coatings and paints were applied. It also went through low-speed and high-speed taxiing.

What the Experts Told 19FortyFive About the B-21

“To be frank, the U.S. Air Force needs the B-21 Raider badly, as the B-2 bomber is starting to show its age being a child of the Cold War,” explained military expert Harry J. Kazianis, President of the Rogue States Project. “The U.S. military is a superpower because it can project power at any place and at any time – worldwide. The B-21 will ensure America can retain the vital capability for decades to come.”

Well…Not Completely On Time 

While Rounds has stated the program has been on time, there have been some setbacks on the timeline. The Air Force originally forecasted it would fly in 2021. But the Covid-19 pandemic and long lead times for parts due to supply chain problems required the Air Force to adjust its expectations. 

B-21 Raider

B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber. Image Credit: Industry Handout.

Nevertheless, the B-21 is exciting. It’s the most advanced bomber ever made, as Senator Rounds stated. It has a long way to go before serial production, but the public unveiling is filled with high expectations after years of artist-rendered images. The B-21 will be an important part of the U.S. nuclear triad. The B-21’s stealth capabilities will be put to the test in case of a two-front war with advanced Russian and Chinese anti-aircraft defenses such as the S-400. The B-21 should be able to confidently fly through this contested airspace and drop or launch its ordnance. This bomber can’t join the Air Force soon enough.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Steven

    August 19, 2022 at 9:43 pm

    China must be feeling the pressure to take Taiwan…

  2. bob

    August 20, 2022 at 6:03 am

    This is why we can’t have healthcare.

    All for a bomber that will never be used in combat.

  3. Joe S. Ragman

    August 20, 2022 at 6:35 am

    How much of the tech. has already been stolen by China? How long before a democrat “presidential administration” cuts or cancels it in favor of spending the money on social programs?

  4. Joe S. Ragman

    August 20, 2022 at 9:10 am

    So bob, you don’t think our representative republic should spend tax money to protect/defend all from murderous, totalitarian dictators? Other people’s tax money should be spent to provide you with “free” health care? …Got it… By the way, a military, ours anyway, isn’t there to “use”, it’s there as a deterrent to aggression, and to use if required. We spent trillions on nuclear weapons and never used them, but they were quite the deterrent now weren’t they. Freedom isn’t free.

  5. Richard Schneider

    August 20, 2022 at 12:39 pm

    Peace through Strength is what Strategic Air Command always said

  6. Airbornezep

    August 20, 2022 at 1:16 pm

    For the military complex only.
    When they are deemed not viable anymore another “couple trillion” dollar bankroll will take its place.They will be taken out to Davis, where a B52 crew will pick them up.

  7. Harley Bill

    August 20, 2022 at 2:29 pm

    Joe, remember, liberals think if everyone turns in their guns, no criminal will have one. As an Air Force Veteran, I think this is great, and the money is well spent. Free Healthcare? Talk to someone from Canada about free healthcare. Thankfully, America is still America sort of, but after Bidet and the ho are gone things should return to what we used to be.

  8. Rob

    August 20, 2022 at 3:01 pm

    Ragma, perfect your answer
    Exactly, freedom doesn’t come for free

  9. MY V NGUYEN

    August 20, 2022 at 4:03 pm

    As WWII,the Korean War, the American War in Vietnam clearly demonstrated, strategic bombing is an insignificant factor in winning any war. The most important factor is whether the American GIs can prevail against a highly trained and motivated Russian, Chinese, and even an underequipped Taliban fighter in a long protracted conflict. And that is the Factor.

  10. jelena

    August 20, 2022 at 11:24 pm

    Please don’t make me laugh so hard .
    Don’t know who is the guy who is writing this text..
    We all know how much Russia is ahead of US

  11. jules rosen

    August 21, 2022 at 9:00 am

    20 billion to develop spread over the course of probably a hundred or 200 planes means each plane costs at least $200 million dollars in reality I hate to say it but cruise missiles cost a lot less and project a lot faster and easier

  12. J Hunt

    August 21, 2022 at 9:01 am

    We do. How far ahead are they?

  13. Andrew Harrison

    August 21, 2022 at 9:57 am

    On time and under budget is a headline, well when you set the bar that low I guess you can easily claim success. How good is the stealth technology will it make the aircraft invulnerable to attack. How will this aircraft stand up to hypersonic missiles if detectable?

  14. Robert Moore

    August 21, 2022 at 12:38 pm

    Does he needs growlers support or any form of electronic warfare for it to work at 100% or does it have onboard anything it needs? Also being so slow, how does it works against air defenses purr stealth? This is not trolling those are sincere questions from a nonmilitary amateur

  15. Thiet

    August 21, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    Cheetos snacks to three child from reginal hospital. We talking real here! Not potting kids ✓

  16. Bill Anderson

    August 21, 2022 at 1:07 pm

    Why are we providing vital details, drawings, and upcoming photos of this new weapon to our enemies? What ever happened to the “unknown” and “the element of surprise” as effective weapons? Simply stating that the new planes have substantial advances in maneuverability, technology, weapons and speed would keep them guessing!

  17. Travelguy38

    August 21, 2022 at 3:26 pm

    Oh joy, more money wasted on the American War machine, what boogie man will the news outlets drum up to justify this huge waste? Anyone still remember that 1.5 trillion (or was that 1.7) wasted on the jet that couldn’t even leave the ground? Feel free to Google.

  18. Donald Nicholas

    August 21, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    You don’t know how it warms my heart that a weapon built to rain down nuclear destruction is being ground test to preserve the environment. Am I the only one to see the absurdity? This military leadership of Biden, Austin and Milley, more dedicated to WOKE, CRT, DEI and green than defense will take years to unscrew.

  19. David Viola

    August 21, 2022 at 6:07 pm

    I’m not pro Russia or China, but those two combined, against a military force slowly becoming weaker and weaker due to wokeness… I doubt they’ll be losing any sleep at all. Don’t forget you’d have the middle east, most Islamic countries and probably India against you too… how many planes are you making? 🙂

  20. Todd T Stevenson

    August 21, 2022 at 10:47 pm

    The NSA Act of 1947 was the single greatest mistake ever made by a country. We went from a whatever to a military oligarchy. We spend annually 17 times more on military than the rest of the world combined on theirs. We also spend 80 cents of every dollar in discretionary spending for our socialistic program. So, no, I’m not impressed with nuclear powered subs, tiny mechanic insects that can detonate a building, etc. *Yawn*

  21. Draco

    August 22, 2022 at 8:35 am

    Lol, Russia & china sweating? Sure, B21 speed boat will be another swim craft that will be swimming beside Fat-35s.
    With war with Russia, Northern America will become glass in 2 hours, let alone china.

  22. Hawkeye

    August 22, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    Send it to Serbia and we will show you how stelt it is as previous version f116.

  23. Cliff

    August 23, 2022 at 11:13 am

    Proper-ganda

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