Intended to embody the future of long-range strike, the B-21 Raider will join the military’s triad as a formidable deterrent once commissioned into the Air Force.
Capable of carrying conventional and nuclear weapons, the Raider will likely remain the mainstay of the Air Force for decades to come.
Origin of the “Raider”
The B-21 was named to honor the “Doolittle Raiders,” 80 men whose innovation and risk-taking altered the course of World War II. In 1942, the Raiders launched 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers off the flight deck of the USS Hornet despite the airframes not being designed for carrier take-offs.
Northrop Grumman’s B-21 bomber will honor the legacy of the original Raiders by allowing the military to achieve air superiority over U.S. adversaries.
The Long Range Strike Bomber program started in 2011, and Northrop Grumman was awarded the coveted development contract a few years later.
At that time, reports suggested the new bomber would function as an intelligence collection platform in addition to its weapons capabilities.
In 2018, the program passed its critical design review, and the Air Force selected Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota to host the bomber and its training unit.
Raider Specs That We Know
Slated to replace the Air Force’s 63 B-1 strategic bombers and 20 B-2 bombers, the Raider may also supersede the B-52 Stratofortress.
Although a lot of information regarding the upcoming bomber has yet to be publicized, the Raider appears to be much smaller than its Spirit predecessor.
Additionally, some analysts believe the B-21 will sport half of the B-2’s 60,000-pound payload capacity. Sandboxx News also suggests that the Raider’s wingspan could be approximately 15% shorter than the Spirit. Having a smaller frame will give the Raider a significant advantage, as it will be harder to detect on radar. W
hile the bomber is expected to be on the smaller side, its weapons-carrying capacity will be massive.
What Makes the B-21 Raider So Special?
Perhaps more impressive is the B-21’s modularity, and specifically the cloud technology it incorporates. Similarly to the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, the Raider will include modular systems that can be upgraded and altered as technology evolves.
In the past, platforms would have to be essentially gutted to support new changes or software updates, which could take a while and cost a lot to achieve. The B-21’s ability to easily adapt to new systems will ensure the bomber can stay relevant over time.
The B-21 Raider’s recent reveal came amid a time of global turbulence. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s increasing acts of hostility toward Taiwan, the introduction of a sixth-generation bomber will help shape the balance in great power competition.
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Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.