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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

We Might Know What the B-21 Raider Looks Like Soon

Artist rendering of a B-21 Raider concept in a hangar at Dyess, Air Force Base, Texas, one of the future bases to host the new airframe. (Courtesy photo by Northrop Grumman)

The long-awaited reveal of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is set for this December.

“The timing of the rollout was announced today by Air Force acquisition executive Andrew Hunter during a roundtable with reporters at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference,” Valerie Insinna reported for Breaking Defense. Northrop Grumman confirmed the unveiling on their website. “Northrop Grumman Corporation, in partnership with the U.S. Air Force, will unveil the B-21 Raider during the first week of December.”

The unveiling will take place at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California facilities, which is where the B-21 is being produced. The date, which is expected to be in the first week of December, has not yet been finalized. “We are still working to nail down all the plans,” Hunter said.

Doug Young, Northrop’s sector vice president and general manager boasted that: “the B-21 is the most advanced military aircraft ever built and is a product of pioneering innovation and technological excellence. The Raider showcases the dedication and skills of the thousands of people working every day to deliver this aircraft.”

Mr. Young – and Northrop – will need to back up their platitudinal marketing with a tangible product. And it looks like that will finally happen. Northrop “stated that the event would be “invitation only” and provide an “exclusive view” of the B-21 – hinting that those so lucky to see the new bomber in person may only be able to view it from a specific angle, allowing the Air Force and company to prevent any secret information about its design to be gleaned by onlookers,” Insinna reported.

To date, the B-21 has been shrouded in mystery. The new bomber was supposed to fly in 2021 – but now it looks like the first flight will occur in 2023. Still, “the aircraft is reasonably on track and has stayed within its budget – a modern miracle for expensive defense programs,” Kyle Mizokami wrote in Popular Mechanics.

The B-21 unveiling will mark the first time the US has unveiled a strategic bomber in three decades. The last time was when the B-2 Spirit – another Northrop Grumman product – debuted in the late 1980s. The B-2 marked a significant development in aircraft technology: it was the world’s first-ever stealth bomber. Using a flying-wing design, the B-2 looked like something out of the BatMan franchise. And the total cost of the program was staggering: $2.3 billion per aircraft. Only 21 B-2 bombers were ever produced – and all but one is still serving today (the other one was totaled in a runway mishap in Guam). Now, it appears as if the B-2 will be phased out to make room for the B-21, which emulates the B-2’s flying wing design. So far, only six B-21s have been made – but the new bomber is expected to represent a significant improvement over the capabilities of the B-2. The Air Force has not disclosed how many B-21s it is expecting to buy. Although, “each B-21 is projected to cost approximately $550 million in FY10 dollars,” Insinna reported.

Hopefully the December unveiling will significantly improve the public’s understanding of the mysterious B-21 – because as of now, we really don’t know much. “What we know for sure is that the aircraft was purpose-built front he ground up to replace at least two-thirds of America’s aging heavy bomber fleet,” Alex Hollings wrote for Sandboxx.

B-21 Raider

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

The December event will be invitation only. Whether pictures are allowed is unclear. So far, only a single artist rendering of the B-21 has been released. Hopefully, the unveiling will represent something of a reward for aviation enthusiasts who have been waiting patiently for some hard details on the Air Force’s mysterious new bomber.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.