Imagine the new B-21 Raider bomber taking off from the United States and flying another mission from Australia at the same time.
The Australian air force would have to buy their own B-21s first. That would require nearly $30 billion to be invested by the Australian government – a steep price that the Aussies may not want to pay. But it is intriguing to analyze what the B-21 could add to a potential concurrent attack scenario against China from North America and the Indo-Pacific.
What We Know About the B-21
The nuclear-capable B-21 had a public unveiling on December 2 in California and will eventually serve with the B-52 to make a premier option for the nuclear triad and build the backbone of deterrence. The B-21 will eventually replace the B-1B Lancer and the B-2 Spirit deep-strike airplanes.
The B-21 can also deliver conventional missiles and bombs to the combat theater. It’s the first strategic bomber in 30 years for the U.S. Air Force.
Australia Is Getting More Serious About Defense
Australia is acting in accordance with the trilateral AUKUS accord that comprises Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States for better protection against China. Australia would like nuclear submarines under AUKUS, and they will have to wait.
Canberra wants the boats by the next decade or quicker as China grows and modernizes its military to threaten Australia.
Australia Has a Yearning for Nuclear Submarines Too
The B-21 could provide Canberra with long-distance strike capability as it waits for the submarines. The Australian Navy could choose between the United States’ Virginia-class attack subs or the United Kingdom’s Astute-class.
The B-21 Is Very Cool, Defense Minister Said
Meanwhile, the Australians have fallen in love with the B-21. Defense Minister Richard Marles described the B-21 as “very cool looking” in an excited comment on Twitter after the public showing. Marles believes the B-21 could fit into Australia’s defense strategy, which he describes in two words: “Impactful Projection.” Australia wants to be relevant rather than a far-off continent that only engages in homeland defense.
Canberra is interested in the possibility of going on the offense against China if needed and that would require nuclear submarines and stealth bombers to do so.
Stealth Pairing with F-35s
Australia does have F-35A stealth fighters and these would make for a powerful formation if they could fly with the B-21. However, the U.S. Air Force has not said when the Raider bomber would be available on the export market, even though Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is open to the idea. The Air Force has the one B-21 they showed off early this month and six others in various stages of production. The Americans want at least 100 of the B-21s and perhaps more if they are on time and under budget and test flights hit their milestones.
B-21 Price Would Choke a Horse
Australia would need at least $25 billion to $28 billion for a squadron of 12 B-21s. The problem with the cost is that the entire Australian defense budget for 2022 was only $30.7 billion and around two percent of gross domestic product.
Canberra would need to double defense spending to afford the B-21, should it ever be available for export.
Is the B-21 Even Needed?
This has some questioning Australia’s quest for such an expensive program. Retired Australian General Mick Ryan wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that the airplane is “Designed to do only one thing – bomb China – the B-21 bomber is a capability beyond Australia’s budget and need.”
B-21 Not Ready for Export Now But That Could Change
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he would prefer getting the B-21 “tested and fully outfitted” before discussing exports to countries like Australia. That means it may not be available for foreign sales until the 2030s. Australia may be willing to wait for this availability as it ponders its future military strategy.
Some say the stealth bomber is not needed, but Canberra could be a good partner with Washington to bring more allied military capabilities to the Indo-Pacific.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.