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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber: Could Cost Be a Problem?

B-21 Raider
B-21 Raider

Whoa? The U.S. Air Force’s new B-21 stealth bomber is going to cost around $751 million each in today’s dollars. That’s a price tag that could be prohibitive for Congress and the Pentagon.

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The number of bombers that the Air Force would buy is often said to be 100 aircraft, so move that decimal place and you will get a total dollar investment of $75 billion.

So far, defense officials and politicians have claimed the bomber is on time and under budget, but that could change as acquisition programs can often become bloated and behind schedule at any point during the process.

B-21 – Don’t Worry; Everything Is Under Control

During the airplane’s initial unveiling last December, Andrew Hunter, Air Force assistant undersecretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, told journalists that so far, the program is “tracking well” on cost and schedule. Hunter has stated that the Air Force will keep a firm price ceiling on the airplane, and this will keep the cost from ballooning out of control.

Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, where the B-21 will eventually be based, said the same thing last year. Rounds received a classified briefing on the status of the B-21 in July of 2022. “I had a good review of what will be the assembly line and had a good chance to see the platform itself,” Rounds told a local media outlet. “I’ve been assured it is on time and budget.”

Air Force Acquisition Is Juggling Airplanes 

But the Air Force has its hands full delivering existing airplane programs and future platforms. The F-35 is being assembled daily. The F-15EX is on the production line. Plus, the Next-Generation Air Dominance fighter is in development. Air Force acquisition honchos and their overseers in Congress have much on their plate when it comes to making sure the price and the schedule go according to plan for these programs.

The Pentagon’s Acquisition Team Is Busy Too

But this is just for the Air Force, when you factor in the Pentagon’s wish for new ships and nuclear missile upgrades, not to mention modernization efforts for the Marine Corps, you are talking serious competitions for scarce dollars and resources.

B-21s Can Bring the Mail Stealthily 

One hundred or more B-21s would be great as the B-21 has the ability to penetrate contested air space without recognition and drop nuclear bombs and launch conventional strike missiles at an adversary that would never see them coming. The B-21 will be able to take off from the United States and reach anywhere in the world to deliver its weapons.

The B-2 Program Struggled

The Air Force hopes history will not be repeated when it comes to developing a new stealth bomber. The service branch also wanted over 100 B-2 stealth bombers decades ago. They ended up costing an eye-watering $2 billion a piece. There are now only 20 B-2 bombers in service.

The Navy’s A-12 Was a Disaster

When I worked at the RAND Corporation in defense acquisition, I was always warned about the demise of the Navy’s A-12 Avenger II stealth airplane. In 1990, the A-12 was “at least $1 billion over budget, 8,000 pounds overweight, and eighteen months behind schedule.” This was an aircraft that its proponents in the Department of Defense and Congress swore was on time and under budget until Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney killed the program. So, the lesson here is sometimes to be skeptical of what lawmakers and acquisition officials claim is happening during an airplane’s life cycle.

To be sure, the B-21 is looking much better than the A-12. The unveiling impressed many, even though the rear of the airplane was hidden due to security concerns to keep the Chinese from seeing its engine. It is supposed to fly for the first time this year. Another six are on the production line.

Let’s see if the B-21 can meet the target of 100 bombers because this could give the U.S. military a huge advantage in the skies for the coming decades.

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Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’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.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, 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.



  1. John

    January 10, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    China going for hundreds of H-20s.
    100 B-21 not enough. And now the tea party hobbits want to cut defense.
    Who knew that the Dems would be a better bet for defense spending. Will have to change my vote back to the Dems in 2024 as the Reagan Republicans are gone

  2. Roger Bacon

    January 10, 2023 at 4:01 pm

    The terms “Dems” and “better for defense” should never be used in teh same sentence.

  3. Commentar

    January 10, 2023 at 4:16 pm

    Let’s give the b-21 a ‘magical’ range of 8,000 km.

    That’s less than the hitting reach of a SS-27. Which itself is not exactly tbe champion of long distance hitmen.

    Then consider the fact that b-21 is a subsonic transporter which is totally visible to overhead satellites and even high flying drones.

    Also their home bases are well known. Dyess afb in texas, ellsworth in south dakota and whiteman in missouri.

    Thus b-21 is a slow-travellin’ threat that resembles ailing joe biden that sadly needs an escort in order to ensure it survives its 8,000 km journey.

    The costs will soon add up.

    Now, the american public needs to decide which to support.

    Super duper expensive b-21 or the bottomless pit called ukraine.

  4. Cheburator

    January 10, 2023 at 4:46 pm

    The plan is as reliable as a Swiss watch.

    USA – let’s build an aircraft with a range of 6000 miles, for dropping free-fall bombs, price plane the 75 billion, with dubious low stells significative and very poor dynamic characteristics (for example, the F35 of Israel, the Russians in Syria take aim).

    Russia – (with an accent) We have 10,000 ballistic missiles, the cost of each missile is two buckets of vodka and a balalaika.

  5. Steven

    January 10, 2023 at 7:24 pm

    Cost is meaningless because the government will just print more money, problem solved.

    I wish the aliens would just come down and ‘serve man’ and get it over with.

  6. Jacksonian Libertarian

    January 10, 2023 at 9:53 pm

    Information Age smart weapons are the future of warfare. The only reason Ukraine hasn’t already smashed the Russian Military, is that the West doesn’t have enough spare smart weapons (javelins, MLAW, Stingers, Drones, etc.) to get the job done.

    Given this fact, heavy manned long range bombers face head winds which damage their case.
    1. putting all your eggs in one basket, with heavy loads of expensive smart weapons, violates the strategic principle of Dispersion.
    2. Weight which is very important for combat aircraft is damaged by the thousands of pounds needed to carry the controls, life support, windshields, etc. necessary for manned aircraft.
    3. Biological limitations of gee forces, bio breaks, rest/sleep, and maintaining alertness, all degrade the Combat Power of manned aircraft.

    What is needed is cheap, long range, attritable, UAVs, that being remote controlled, can be used aggressively as the tip of the spear, while carrying only a few expensive smart weapons, but large amounts of fuel for their optional role as “Ramming Speed” fire bombs.

  7. Cheburator

    January 10, 2023 at 9:58 pm


    Inflation 10%
    4.5% refinancing rate (and will be raised)
    You can print additional liquidity when you have low inflation and a Fed rate of 0.25%.
    But if the refinancing rate and inflation are high, then the additional currency supply will simply devalue the dollar.
    If you don’t know, the Fed is now withdrawing $95 billion a day from circulation, $95 billion a day is being taken out of the pockets of Americans – I remind you – that someone almost had a heart attack that Ukraine was allocated $50 billion a year,
    the entire American healthcare system receives $40 billion per year,
    the Ministry of Education receives 68 billion per year.
    And here 95 billion a day is extracted from the turnover.
    So how do you think the government will print these 75 billion and how it will finance this program.

    If in such conditions the government prints more dollars, then it will be most functional to print immediately on rolls of toilet paper – the value of the dollar will be comparable, if not lower than toilet paper.

  8. John

    January 11, 2023 at 3:44 am

    With the Tea party hobbits in the house in charge, it is a sad day when the woky Dems will be better for defense than the GOP.

    And what is this GOP strategy of a circular firing squad by announcing that cuts to the military,Medicare and Social Security are on the table. Biden is using this in getting the GOP down to 40% by election time 2024. Neither the GOP or the Dems seem electable. Need a practical Centrist party. And for the Dems, none of this DEI hoky woky stuff is improving lives in poor communities. Creating safe spaces for minorities has the effect that white firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, stores are fleeing to their safe spaces in more affluent smaller communities. Have you tried to buy a home in Montana lately?

  9. Nobody

    January 11, 2023 at 7:40 am

    How much corruption can the US tolerate before the entire system collapses? These people are nothing but thieves.

  10. Cheburator

    January 11, 2023 at 8:53 am

    Jacksonian Libertarian

    Уou know that during the year of the war, Ukraine used up the amount of weapons and ammunition that all countries NATO together produced in 10 years, and this did not affect the combat capability of the Russian army – yesterday Ukraine lost Soledar – one of the key strongholds, but the media is silent about this and the press.

    Do you even understand that such key NATO partners in Europe as Germany, France, Poland have neither weapons nor ammunition in their warehouses, and it will take from 5 to 8 years to replenish stocks with full funding. The UK now has only 10% of the stock of light anti-tank weapons. At the same time, the financial condition of Great Britain, Germany, France, Poland puts before a choice – to buy a weapon or buy something to eat or pay for heating in an apartment – pick one.
    Britain the tanks is barely enough to complete two battalions.

    Poland was going to increase the army to 300,000 people, but apparently in order to arm its people, it will take spears from museums, revive the hussar and distribute apples instead of ammunition.

    The US Army is not equipped with such means as javelins, it has come to the point that such a rarity as TOW has begun to be removed from warehouses – for the last 20 years it has been sold exclusively to third world countries. Because there is none for javelins, even for training for combat units.

  11. Laurence Mardon

    January 11, 2023 at 1:29 pm

    We all know what’s going to happen: the final cost will balloon by about 200%, it won’t work as advertised, and you’ll end up with half a dozen of the things … to join such other DoD triumphs as the LCS and that spiffy stealth destroyer with a gun that has no ammunition.

    Doesn’t the authour say that it hasn’t flown yet, but they production line is already in operation? That tactic sure worked well for the F-35. (I would usually go back & check exactly how this authour phrased this, but frankly this is just such a Tom Clancy wet-dream puff-piece of writing that I don’t think it’s worth it.)

    A more serious critique (from a non-American): hey! Guys! Yes, you Yanks down there in the States! … don’t you realize that your country is declining economically and socially? Shouldn’t fixing your country’s problems be the priority rather than shoveling more trillions of dollars thru the utterly corrupt Pentagon arms acquisition process? It’s a serious question about your national priorities.

  12. dan mullock

    January 11, 2023 at 4:16 pm

    Stealthy penetration at long ranges summarizes the author’s perspective on the mission of the B-21. We have had at least somewhat stealthy bombers with the ability to penetrate defended airspace since the late 1980’s. How many missions into defended airspace have those bombers completed in those approximately 35 years? To my knowledge (USAF intelligence analyst for 7 years, lifelong interest in military aviation) that answer is zero. It is possible of course that a small number of secret missions have occurred but the public record shows zero such missions. So why buy any more? Stealthy penetration at long ranges can easily be accomplished by drones or stealthy missiles such as hypersonic or cruise missiles. A 2,500 mile range stealth missile would allow excellent standoff range, so why stand in? And don’t discount the ability of low earth satellite surveillance to dramatically improve in the next decade so that by the time the B-21 is fielded it can be followed from space. A single B-21 would pay for 20 $35 million high end stealthy missiles with no stand in risk to the shooter. Drop the B-21 and as others have noted, go small, many and relatively cheap.

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