Because of the prohibitive cost of designing, developing, and fielding a strategic bomber force, only three countries field strategic bombers, able to hit continents thousands of miles away; China, Russia, and the United States.
The B-21 Raider gets its name honoring the Doolittle Raiders, U.S. Army Air Force men during World War II. Just months after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. suffering defeat after defeat in the Pacific theater, President Roosevelt ordered a sneak attack on the Japanese homeland.
It was hoped that it would boost the morale of the people in the mainland U.S. On April 18, 1942, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle used B-25 Mitchell land bombers and took off from the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Hornet and hit several Japanese cities before flying to then-ally China. The raid shocked Japan’s high command and forced the Japanese to recall combat forces for home defense. The designation B-21 recognizes the Raider as the first bomber of the 21st century.
Role For the B-21 and The General Characteristics of the Raider
The B-21 Raider is a new high-tech stealth bomber being developed to replace the Air Force’s aging bomber fleet of B-1s, B-2s, and B-52s. The Raider will be able to penetrate enemy air defenses anywhere in the world, hit targets, and return safely home, which 90 percent of the USAF’s current bomber fleet cannot do.
Designed to be long-range, highly survivable, and capable of carrying a mix of conventional and nuclear weapons, the B-21 is scheduled to begin replacing the B-1 bombers by 2025 and ultimately replace them by 2036.
The Air Force is currently planning on purchasing 100 Raiders, but there are some defense analysts that believe that the Air Force should buy 200 B-21s.
The Air Force is expected to reveal the B-21 Raider sometime later this year, according to Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), the only Congressional member to make a classified visit to the production facility in Palmdale, CA.
“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,” Rounds said after his visit. “The public can expect the B-21 to be revealed later this year.”
There have only been artist renderings thus far of the Raider, so the unveiling is bound to attract a lot of attention. The Air Force has identified Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB), South Dakota, as the first base to receive B-21s, and formal crew training will be conducted there. Ultimately, other Raider bases will be located at Dyess AFB, Texas, and Whiteman AFB, Missouri. Tinker AFB Oklahoma will provide maintenance for the Raiders, while Edwards AFB, California, will provide the location for testing and evaluation for the B-21s.
Australia May Be Involved in the Program
One of the surprises of the B-21 Raider program was an announcement that the U.S. may consider providing Australia with B-21s as a deterrent to China’s expansionist goals in the South Pacific.
The Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, met with Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) official Robert Chipman in Canberra earlier this week and made a statement that Washington is considering it.
“We are in what I consider to be a race for military technological superiority with the Chinese,” Kendall said to the Australian website The Strategist, which is affiliated with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“I don’t think that there’s any fundamental limitation on the areas in which we can cooperate,” the secretary said. “If Australia had a requirement for long-range strike … then we’d be willing to have a conversation with them about that,” he added.
Another intriguing development in the program is that the B-21 Raider will operate drones such as the Air Force’s Valkyrie drone. The Undersecretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz told media members during the Air Force’s budgetary hearing for FY 2023, “We are assessing the potential to introduce a lower cost, complementary, uncrewed aircraft into the B-21 to provide an enhanced level of capability.”
This will allow manned crews to operate at a safer stand-off distance from enemy air defenses and a forward sensor platform that will allow the US to conduct surveillance, test enemy air defenses, or even drop weapons directed by a human drone operator.
One of the questions that leaders and analysts always ask, besides the very high cost of a bomber program, is, “Why Does the US need Bombers when We Have Drones and Missiles?”
Drones and Missiles are great additions to the American arsenal, but neither is as survivable as a stealth bomber. And, despite the prohibitive cost (the cost of producing, testing, and fielding the B-21 fleet is expected to cost $230 billion), stealth bombers are the only platform that can fly intercontinental and penetrate an enemy country’s air defenses and deliver conventional or nuclear weapons.
The nuclear deterrent of the Raider is a huge part of US strategy as well as those of Russia and China. The Northrop-Grumman B-21 is expected to be a big upgrade over the B-2 as well as being much more survivable and maneuverable than the Spirit.
With the Cold War B-2s showing their age and the B-52s being flown by the grandchildren of those who flew them generations ago, the B-21 Raider will ensure the US can project power anywhere at any time, against any enemies, real or potential.
Expert Biography: Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. A proven military analyst, he served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer in the 7th Special Forces Group. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.