B-21 For Sale? The suggestion that the U.S. should share or export the highly sensitive technologies woven into the new B-21 Raider stealth bomber with allies, could arguably be seen as somewhat reckless and potentially even irresponsible.
While surely there may be financial and security-related advantages to exporting the B-21 and building an allied coalition with stealth bombing capability, the risks to U.S. national security seem extremely significant. No part of the highly sophisticated “black” B-21 program should leave the U.S. under any circumstances, as the very survival of the U.S. arguably relies upon a secure, established, and unparalleled ability to hold any target at risk, anywhere in the world, at any time.
Senior Air Force leaders have been clear for years that the platform introduces a new generation of stealth technology, computing, sensing, and networking technologies. For obvious security reasons, these need to remain exclusive to the US.
Of course, there is great added value in allied cooperation and joint, multinational developmental programs for both security and economic reasons, yet something like the B-21 would seem far too sensitive to risk in any way.
B-21 Raider For Sale?
One could draw parallels to the growing and impactful global F-35 alliance and make the case that it would serve U.S. interests to cultivate a multi-national allied force of networked stealth bombers, yet there are many reasons to hesitate or view such a concept with skepticism.
While the F-35 clearly contains highly sensitive unique technologies, some of which are likely not available for public consumption, yet the almost fully “black” B-21 program likely involves an entirely new generation of unique, sensitive stealth technologies.
There is widespread consensus and documented concern that F-35 specs and technologies have been stolen by the Chinese. Does the U.S. want to take a similar risk with something like the B-21? While details are not available, the B-21 is a platform that may bring an unprecedented advantage to U.S. deterrence, posture, and stealth attack capability.
This would highlight the importance of securing and protecting its sensitive technologies to ensure any benefit it provides remains unique to the U.S. and not vulnerable to theft from great power adversaries.
Preserving a stealth advantage is particularly critical given the extent to which Russian and Chinese air defenses have evolved with a reported ability to track some stealth platforms. Russian-built defenses such as the S-400s and S-500s are increasingly networked, longer-range, more precise, and capable of detecting aircraft on a wider range of frequencies.
This is why, for example, the Pentagon is upgrading the B-2 with advanced sensors called the Defensive Management System, designed to help crews locate and therefore avoid advanced air defense systems.
Given all of this, should the B-21 incorporate technologies providing an unparalleled, unique stealth technology advantage, the Pentagon would be well served to make every effort to protect and safeguard the advantage for its own national security.
Finally, it would seem difficult to engineer an acceptable “export” variant of the B-21 as is done with many U.S. systems such as the Abrams tank or F-16 fighter because so many of the B-21’s technologies are likely almost entirely new and potentially paradigm-changing.
Added to this equation is the key element to which the Pentagon’s stealth bomber fleet contributes the air leg to the nation’s nuclear triad. An ability to hold a great power, nuclear-capable adversary at risk with secret stealth nuclear air attack brings capability is an irreplaceable element to the Pentagon’s deterrence posture. In a scenario where nuclear-armed submarines or ICBMs are unavailable or rendered inoperative by an adversary in a nuclear confrontation, a capable air leg of the nuclear triad could ensure U.S. survival.
The B-21 should not be shared with any allies, under any circumstances, for any reason.
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.