The U.S. Air Force is set to reveal the B-21 Raider, its latest strategic bomber, in December. After months of speculation as to when the Air Force would hold the reveal ceremony for the B-21 Raider, the Pentagon came out and stated that it would take place on December 2.
B-21 Raider: The Future of Strategic Bombing
The B-21 Raider will be a dual-capable penetrating strategic strike stealth bomber that will be able to deliver both nuclear and conventional munitions.
The Air Force plans to use the B-21 Raider as a strategic deterrence against an emerging China (which is working on its own sixth-generation bomber, the H-20 Xian). The B-21 Raider will also be able to use stand-off, stand-in, and direct attack munitions in order to engage targets from large distances.
Moreover, the Air Force intends the B-21 Raider to be a member of a larger family of manned aircraft and unmanned aerial systems that work together in a joint environment and share capabilities. This larger family of aircraft will specialize in mission sets such as Long Range Strike, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Electronic Attack, Early Warning, and Communication.
“When it comes to delivering America’s resolve, the B-21 Raider will be standing by, silent and ready. 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,” Northrop Grumman states about the B-21 Raider.
According to Northrop Grumman, there are currently six B-21 Raider test aircraft in various stages of final assembly in the aerospace company’s facilities. Although the future strategic bomber was initially projected to make its maiden public flight this year, program delays have pushed that date to 2023. However, the actual date of the first flight is still to be determined based on how the aircraft responds to ground testing.
“Northrop Grumman is proud of our partnership with the U.S. Air Force as we deliver the B-21 Raider, a sixth-generation aircraft optimized for operations in highly contested environments,” Tom Jones, corporate vice president and president, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, said in a press release.
Each B-21 Raider is expected to cost approximately $600 million, making it one of the most expensive aircraft of all time, but the program is on budget, according to Congress.
The Future Air Force Bomber Fleet
The Air Force wants to buy, at the minimum, 100 Raider bombers to align with its plans to take the service bomber fleet to the sixth generation.
However, the Air Force also intends to keep the venerable B-52 Stratofortress in service for missions that don’t necessarily require the B-21 Raider’s more technologically advanced capabilities. But for an aircraft that is more than six decades old, the B-52 Stratofortress needs some upgrades fast.
The Pentagon is already working on major structural and technological upgrades for the venerable bomber, which will most likely get the “H” designation (B-52H Stratofortress) once it has completed them. Meanwhile, the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit are set to retire once the B-21 Raider is up and running.
Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.