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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Why America Needs the B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber

B-21 Raider
B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

With the B-21 bomber set to be publicly unveiled in just a few weeks, it is important to highlight major defense acquisition efforts that run smoothly and deliver a needed capability on budget. Too often, weapons systems make headlines over cost breaches, schedule slips, or mismanagement. But the US Air Force’s new bomber program is positive and encouraging, according to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA).

Speaking at AEI last year, the chairman said the B-21 program had incorporated well the lessons from the purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The new bomber has defied the odds and stayed on time, on budget, and has been made to “work in a very intelligent way.”

There are many reasons for the program’s success that date back several chiefs and congresses. Keeping cost estimates secret helped avoid giving China and Russia a head start in building cheap, fast counters to US technology. That’s because weight and cost are so closely correlated with aircraft development, and they could have allowed adversaries to piece together a useful sketch of the bomber’s range, payload, and most importantly for stealthy aircraft, its size.

Additionally, the bomber’s secrecy and unwavering performance parameters helped it avoid the “requirements creep” and gold-plating that has brought many a Pentagon program down into a spiral of failure.

A decade later, the Air Force’s new bomber means America is the only country in the world that can hold targets at risk inside mainland China—a capability essential to deterrence and avoiding conflict.

This new capability is especially needed at a time when it is increasingly harder to outrun, avoid, or defeat missiles so a bomber’s ability to carry more and larger missiles and sensors becomes more attractive.

The proliferation of long-range precision-guided missiles and advanced air defense systems challenges the traditional American method of power projection predicated upon regionally based non-stealthy aircraft. Many traditional aircraft will be unable to contribute to a significant degree in the opening days of conflict in deadly airspace surrounding peer competitors.

With its long range, large payload, and powerful sensor suite, the B-21 will prove essential to destroying an increasing number of mobile and hardened or deeply buried targets, alongside breakthroughs in hypersonic technologies.

Further, Russian and Chinese advances in jamming and anti-satellite capabilities threaten to cut communications between human controllers back in the United States and robots in enemy airspace. The B-21, with its large electronics suite and two or more airmen, will command and control independent aircraft from the hostile frontlines or serve as a data relay back to human controllers elsewhere.

The B-21 will also possess the range and payload to carry short-range drones into denied airspace, a necessary condition for employing these systems in realistic environments in the first place. In sum, the Air Force’s new B-21 Raider bomber simply can’t come soon enough.

A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Mackenzie Eaglen is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness. She is also a regular guest lecturer at universities, a member of the board of advisers of the Alexander Hamilton Society, and a member of the steering committee of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security. This first appeared on the AEI website. 


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Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Mackenzie Eaglen is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness. She is also a regular guest lecturer at universities, a member of the board of advisers of the Alexander Hamilton Society, and a member of the steering committee of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Jack

    November 8, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    Serious question……Supposedly we have land and Sub based Nuclear missile delivery systems that are extremely accurate

    So why are Bombers to drop Nukes on our enemies all that important ?

    I’m thinking we should have a few but do we need all that many Bombers ?

  2. Dave

    November 9, 2022 at 8:43 am

    The “why” was explained in the article.

  3. TrustbutVerify

    November 9, 2022 at 9:40 am

    Bombers are part of a triad, nuclear and conventional. Bombers, for one, can be launched (send a message) and called back whereas missiles can’t be. For another, you can change targeting easier and they are more mission profiles that bombers can address.

    If anything we need MORE B-21 bombers and many, many more missiles. We should be building LRASM-ER/JASM-ER, the new AMRAAMs, SM-3 and SM-6, etc. that can be launched from many different platforms. Behind that is the F-35 production with the loyal wingmen.

    AFTER that is Navy ships…but we need those, too, because they are effective loitering missile trucks that can deployed to far-flung areas to provide presence to affect decision making and control events within areas.

    We are looking at a potential Navy and air war in the Pacific over larger areas. We need things that can get there and dominate over the entire area – quickly and effectively.

  4. Indigo Red

    November 9, 2022 at 6:09 pm

    Bombers can be recalled before payload delivery. Missiles must be aborted by in-flight self-destruction leaving great swaths of radioactivity.

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