Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden unveiled a US Air Force fighter jet that has only been shown in artist renderings and is said to be seldom seen, the B-21 Raider, in Palmdale, Calif., on Friday.
“The B-21 Raider changes everything, affirming peace through deterrence, advancing technology and ushering in a new paradigm in aircraft design, development and manufacturing,” said Warden. “With this aircraft, we are delivering the next generation of stealth technology designed for the US Air Force to perform its most complex missions.”
The sixth generation stealth bomber is designed to operate over long ranges in both nuclear and conventional roles while remaining more or less invisible to radar.
“The B-21 Raider is the first strategic bomber in more than three decades,” said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. “It’s a testament to America’s enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation. And it’s proof of that [Defense] The Department’s long-term commitment to building advanced capabilities that will strengthen America’s ability to deter aggression now and in the future.”
With an estimated initial cost of between US$692 million and US$752 million (US$550 million in FY2010) per aircraft, the B-21 is said to be capable of penetrating sophisticated air defenses and hitting targets with or without a pilot in its two seats.
“The B-21 will form the backbone of bomber forces in both conventional and nuclear roles for decades to come, providing an unmatched ability to penetrate future air defenses and support joint military operations with long-range attack capabilities, large and mixed payloads, and survivability,” said Gen. Timothy M. Ray, Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command, in prepared testimony [PDF] before a Senate subcommittee last year.
Ray said the US needs at least 100 B-21 Raiders to support America’s nuclear triad (land, sea and air-launched missiles), deter aggression, assert itself in competitive environments and aging B-1B Lancers and B-2 Spirits -Bombers – none of which were shot down in combat. The B-21 is positioned as a deterrent to potential threats from China and other adversaries with advanced air defenses.
The Air Force is expected to spend $203 billion to develop, purchase and operate 100 B-21s over 30 years. The cost of developing the aircraft is said to be slightly less than the $25.1 billion estimated by the Air Force.
According to Northrop Grumman, six of the aircraft are in various states of assembly at Palmdale. The plane’s first test flight is expected sometime in 2023, and initial operational capability — the point at which enough planes and trained pilots are ready for missions — ranged from the mid to late 2020s, according to the Congressional Research Service [PDF].
Northrop Grumman describes the B-21 as “a digital bomber” and says the defense firm uses “agile software development, advanced manufacturing techniques and digital engineering tools to mitigate the production risk of the B-21 program and enable modern conservation practices.”
The defense company also says it has a data access agreement with the Air Force to operate a “digital twin” of the B-21, a cloud-based diagnostic model that helps with aircraft testing and maintenance. We can only imagine how attractive this type of access could be for those interested in hacking US military systems. ®
https://www.theregister.com/2022/12/03/us_air_force_reveals_b21/ US Air Force unveils B-21 Raider stealth bomber • The Register