The secret is out: the Pentagon unveils its new stealth bomber
The B-21 has been shrouded in secrecy since the Air Force chose Northrop over Boeing to build the plane in a hotly contested competition in 2015. Unlike other classified programs, the Pentagon openly acknowledges the existence of the new bomber – but that’s about it. The Air Force kept most information about the plane secret so that potential adversaries such as China and Russia could not steal its design or develop ways to shoot it down.
What the public knows is that the B-21 is built with a new generation of stealth technology designed to evade the most sophisticated radars. Austin boasted that « 50 years of advancements in low-observability technology have gone into this aircraft ».
« Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky, » he said.
The bomber is designed to penetrate enemy air defenses and hit targets anywhere in the world, something only 10% of the current bomber force can do, according to Northrop. The B-21 is more effective than any other long-range bomber in the world, Austin said, noting that « it won’t need to be theater-based, and it won’t need of logistical support to maintain a target at risk ». .”
« Having such a capability is important for deterrence and for being able, if we need to, to prevail in a conflict, » said a senior DoD official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic. before the ceremony.
This will be especially important if the United States comes into conflict with China, which has dramatically increased its military capabilities over the past decade. For example, if China decides to invade Taiwan — a scenario the Pentagon estimates could occur by 2027 — the B-21 would be able to respond on short notice, said Mark Gunzinger, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The B-21 is « China’s deterrent bomber, » Gunzinger said, speaking on a panel at the Air Force Association’s annual conference in September.
The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 B-21s to replace its fleet of B-1 and B-2 stealth bombers, with first deliveries of the aircraft expected in the mid-2020s. It will be able to carry both nuclear and conventional weapons and may or may not be manned, Northrop said.
Carrying a range of ordnance « with fearsome precision » will allow the B-21 to support operations across the « full spectrum » of warfare, Austin said, much like the Air Force’s current bombers. The B-52, for example, has dropped conventional bombs on Islamic State targets in Syria and can also carry nuclear weapons should such a conflict arise.
The Raider is also « multifunctional, » Austin said. « He can handle anything from intelligence gathering to battle management to integrating with our allies and partners. »
The B-21 was designed with an « open architecture », allowing the Air Force to more easily replace old systems with new technologies. This approach was taken to prevent the bomber, originally designed nearly a decade ago, from becoming obsolete amid rapid technological advancements.
« As the United States continues to innovate, this bomber will be able to defend our country with new weapons that haven’t even been created yet, » Austin said.
Unlike many recent military aircraft programs, the most famous being the controversial F-35 fighter jet, the new bomber remained on schedule and on schedule. The Air Force set a cap of $500 million on unit cost in 2010 dollars; in 2019, Northrop said the Air Force’s target cost would be just over $600 million, adjusting for inflation.
Over the next few months, the B-21 will undergo additional testing to ensure it’s ready for its maiden flight, which Northrop says is likely to take place in 2023.
The Raider is named after the Doolittle Raiders, known for their surprise attack on Japan during World War II. To choose the name, then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein appealed to applications and chose from a list of thousands of options ranging from the ridiculous – « Sneaky McBombFace ». – to the sinister – « Black Death ».
The first new B-21s will be based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and formal training will also be conducted there. Maintenance and sustainment will be handled at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, while testing and evaluation will be conducted at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Other prime contractors include Pratt & Whitney, which supplies the engine; BAE Systems, which most likely builds the electronic warfare system; GKN Aerospace; Janicki Industries; Orbital ATK, which was acquired by Northrop; Rockwell Collins; and Spirit AeroSystems, according to Byron Callan, analyst at Capital Alpha Partners.