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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

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

B-21 Raider. Image Credit: U.S. Military.
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.