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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber: 10 Facts You Need to Know

B-21. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman
B-21. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman Highlights Key Facts About the B-21 Raider: We won’t get our first proper view of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider, the United States Air Forces’ future long-range strategic bomber, until it is officially unveiled on December 2, but the aerospace firm provided some “key facts” about the aircraft this week as a teaser.

B-21 Almost Here

The B-21 will play a critical role in the nation’s strategic triad as a visible and flexible deterrent, and it will support the national security objectives.

The long-range bomber is designed to penetrate the most formidable defenses for precision strikes anywhere in the world.

Sixth Generation

Though the term “sixth-generation” aircraft is now largely used to describe the next-generation fighter programs that are in development, Northrop Grumman highlighted that the Raider benefits from more than three decades of strike and stealth technology.

The bomber promises to be the next evolution of the Air Force strategic bomber fleet, and it was developed with the next generation of stealth technology, advanced networking capabilities, and an open systems architecture.

Optimized for the high-end threat environment, the raider will be able to play a critical role in helping the Air Force meet its most complex missions.

Truly a Stealth Bomber

The B-21 Raider isn’t the first stealth aircraft, and it utilizes the same flying wing shape as the Northrop Grumman B-2; it will employ the latest stealth technology, employing new manufacturing techniques and materials to ensure that the bomber will defeat the anti-access, area-denial systems it will face.

Backbone of the Air Force Bomber Fleet

The United States Air Force plans to acquire at least 100 of the Raiders in the coming decades, forming the backbone of the U.S. bomber fleet.

It will fly alongside and then eventually replace the B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress.

The Raider will be able to deliver a new era of capability and flexibility through the advanced integration of data, sensors, and weapons.

The B-21 will also be capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads, making it one of the most effective aircraft in the sky, with the ability to use a broad mix of stand-off and direct attack munitions.

A Digital Revolution

The B-21 is the first U.S. bomber to enter service in three decades, and it is truly a 21st-century aircraft – a “digital bomber.”

Northrop Grumman utilized agile software development, advanced manufacturing techniques, and digital engineering tools to help mitigate production risk on the B-21 program and enable modern sustainment practices.

There are now six B-21 Raiders in various stages of final assembly and testing at Northrop Grumman’s plant in Palmdale, California – a testament to the digital revolution employed in developing this bomber.

Cloud Technology

The B-21 Raider won’t just fly into the clouds above; it will employ cloud-based computing.

Northrop Grumman and the Air Force have already successfully demonstrated the migration of B-21 ground systems data to a cloud environment.

That demonstration included the development, deployment, and test of B-21 data, including the B-21 digital twin, that will support B-21 operations and sustainment – whilst the robust cloud-based digital infrastructure promises to result in a more maintainable and sustainable aircraft with lower-cost infrastructure.

“The B-21 Raider is a true digital native, and this data rights agreement coupled with the cloud based digital twin allow us to drive down risk in the EMD phase, will enable rapid capability upgrades and lowers sustainment cost over the life of the program,” explained Doug Young, sector vice president and general manager, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems.

Open Architecture – No More Block Upgrades

The B-21 Raider has been developed to meet and address evolving threats, and from day one it was designed for rapid upgradeability.

Unlike earlier generation aircraft, the B-21 will not undergo block upgrades, which will help ensure that the aircraft is ready for the challenges of tomorrow and for decades to come.

With its open architecture, new technology, capabilities, and weapons will be seamlessly incorporated through agile software upgrades and built-in hardware flexibility.

“Nuclear modernization is a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Air Force, and B-21 is key to that plan,” said Randall Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. “The built-in feature of open systems architecture on the B-21 makes the bomber effective as the threat environment evolves. This aircraft design approach sets the nation on the right path to ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability.”

True National Team Effort

There is no “I” in team, and actually, there is no “I” in Northrop Grumman. Instead, since the company was awarded the contract to build the B-21 Raider in 2015, it has been a true team effort – one that includes more than 8,000 people from Northrop Grumman, industry partners, and the Air Force. 

The team consists of more than 400 suppliers across 40 states. 


Lawmakers will always debate the costs of a military program, but Northrop Grumman has worked to ensure that the long-term operations and sustainment affordability have been a program priority since it began.

In partnership with the Air Force, the Northrop Grumman team has made maintainability an equally important requirement to stealth performance to ensure it is able to drive more affordable, predictable operations and sustainment outcomes.

Global Reach

The B-21 will be the backbone of the U.S. bomber fleet and it will be pivotal in supporting the nation’s strategic deterrence strategy.

In addition to the Raider’s advanced long-range precision strike capabilities that will afford Combatant Commanders the ability to hold any target, anywhere in the world at risk, the Raider has also been designed as the lead component of a larger family of systems that will deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic attack and multi-domain networking capabilities. 

In a dynamic global security environment, the B-21 will further provide the flexibility and deterrence critical to the security of the U.S. and its allies.

Raider – Named for World War II Heroes

Northrop Grumman chose the name “Raider” to honor the Doolittle Raid of World War II when 80 airmen, led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, flying sixteen B-25 Mitchell medium bombers set off on a mission that changed the course of World War II. 

From the deck of the USS Hornet (CV-8), the U.S. Army Air Corps bombers took part in a mission that helped shift the momentum in the Pacific theater. The bombers were the first to conduct an air operation to strike Japanese cities including Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, and Nagoya.

The raid was a catalyst for future progress in U.S. air superiority from land or sea. The courageous spirit of the Doolittle Raiders is the inspiration behind the name of the B-21 Raider.

A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.