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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber for Sale?

An artist illustration depicts a U.S. Air Force extended-range B-21 Raider escorted on a mission by armed unmanned next generation air dominance platforms. This fictional bomber features longer, wider wings, and a deeper fuselage that accommodates larger fuel tanks and dual weapons bays that enables the bomber to carry a much larger and varied payload. Mike Tsukamoto/staff; Greg Davis/USAF

Air Forces From Other Nations Already Eying the New B-21 Bomber – The U.S. Air Force is so confident in the next-generation B-21 Raider that it is even considering partnering with other countries for long-range strike airplanes and maybe future export, even though the stealth Raider won’t be ready for serial production until 2030.

The Secretary of the Air Force, in a recent visit to Australia, was asked by an analyst at a think tank if the Aussies could join in the development of the bomber and someday even fly it. Secretary Frank Kendall said the Americans would consider that possibility if formally requested by Canberra.

Air Force Secretary Open to the Idea

When Kendall was asked by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute about the likelihood of some type of agreement regarding the B-21, Kendall replied, “I think the United States, in general, would be willing to talk to Australia about anything that there was an interest in from the Australian perspective that we could help them with.”

Australia Needs American Reassurance and Continued Dialogue

Kendall is considering two major strategic concerns regarding the U.S. relationship with the Australian military. The threat of China and one-year-old trilateral Australia, United Kingdom, and United States AUKUS partnership.

With AUKUS, the three countries will share defense technology and know-how, plus mutual support on improving the defense industrial base and military supply chains. The other consideration is that Australia has to answer the threat from China.

Close Call in the Air Has the Aussies Alarmed

In May, a Chinese fighter flew close to an Australian P-8 surveillance aircraft and released flares and chaff near the recon plane. The Chinese airplane darted before the P-8 and began flying in front of its nose. This was seen as a dangerous maneuver since the chaff had small pieces of aluminum that were sucked into the engine of the Australian airplane. This incident could have been disastrous.

China Teaming Up with the Solomon Islands

So, Australia is interested in ways to improve its military. Moreover, China has partnered with the Solomon Islands for a new security relationship. This is too close for comfort for Canberra as the Solomons are 1,200 miles from Australia. The Solomons situation is also concerning for the United States, especially after a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter vessel was denied a port of call in Guadalcanal on August 26.

B-21 Is Ready for Prime Time

The B-21 will be nuclear-capable and able to penetrate contested air space with its stealthiness. The Air Force wants to buy 100 of the bombers. The first flight could happen in the mid-2020s, but it is not expected in numbers until 2030. It is a flying-wing design like the B-2 Spirit. The airplane has a two-person crew. It is 66 feet long and 164 feet wide, with a height of 16 feet.

Great Range to Attack Anywhere in the Globe

As best we can tell on the B-21, two Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines will give it 15,000 pounds of thrust and a maximum speed of 621 miles per hour. Its ceiling will be nearly 50,000 feet, and its range an astonishing 6,835 miles. The idea is for the airplane to have the ability to attack “anything, anywhere in the world, at any time.”

The bomber can carry 50,000 pounds of ordnance, including a full complement of missiles and bombs plus nuclear weapons. The Joint Air-to-Surface-Standoff-Missile will be the main feature.

Key Senator Is Optimistic

The airplane is said to be on time and under budget. Policymakers are excited about its delivery. U.S. Senator Mike Rounds said it would be shown off in public for the first time this year. Rounds believes it could fly in 2023.

Let’s Tap the Brakes

Would the B-21 actually be developed in partnership or even exported to an ally such as Australia someday?

It is premature to make that determination.


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.

The Secretary of the Air Force did not dismiss this possibility out of hand, but he may have felt pressure to keep his answer upbeat and optimistic not to disappoint the Australians. Some of the technology could be shared – not something highly classified like the stealth coating – but its weapons systems technology might be something both countries could work on together.

The main point is that Secretary Kendall is visiting the Australians and assuring American partners in the Indo-Pacific that the United States will backstop any problems with the Chinese. That has to make Canberra feel better about its current national security situation.

Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood 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. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.

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.