Does America Really Need the B-21 Raider? The Russian state-backed media has for several years been claiming its advanced air defenses can track and destroy stealth aircraft, due to advanced computer processing, digital networking, and high-fidelity, longer-range radar systems.
The Russian S-400s and S-500s, for example, reportedly reach longer ranges and detect aircraft on a wider range of frequencies, however, the ability to establish a moving target “track” and succeed in actually “hitting” or destroying a stealth aircraft is quite different than merely detecting that something is “there.”
Therefore, if advanced air defenses be able to see “stealth” aircraft such as bombers, does that make new platforms like the B-21 obsolete upon arrival?
The clear answer to this is likely no, for several reasons.
Aircraft like the B-21 are engineered to elude lower frequency surveillance radar which can determine if something is “there” or “in the area” as well as high-frequency engagement or targeting radar able to establish and maintain a target “track” on a stealth aircraft.
Finally, even if some kind of “track” is established, successfully “engaging” or destroying a target is entirely different and much more difficult.
Without fins, tails, and protruding shapes such as externally carried weapons, a smooth, horizontal blended wing-body B-2 or B-21 is engineered to elude both surveillance and engagement radar by appearing like a “bird” to enemy radar.
Without definable contours for electromagnetic “pings” to bounce off and deliver a rendering or clear return signal to enemy radar, platforms like the B-21 are designed to secretly arrive, target, and attack without an adversary even knowing they are there.
Although details related to the stealth properties of the B-21 are likely not available for security reasons, senior weapons developers have for quite some time been clear that the B-21 will be able to hold any target, anywhere in the world at any time.
There may well be thermal signature management technologies, advanced radar absorbent coating materials, new aerodynamic configurations, and other stealth properties built into the B-21 that change the paradigm of stealth capability in a defining way.
Several years ago, former Air Force Materiel Command Commander Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski told me that, in an advanced threat environment, stealth is merely “one arrow in the quiver” of attack capability.
This would suggest that other variables such as aircraft speed, altitude, and the use of unmanned systems can also impact the extent to which a stealth bomber is “targetable.”
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University