The United States Air Force is going to be pleased as Air Force Maj. Gen. Jason R. Armagost, Director of Strategic Plans, Programs, and Requirements at Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) confirmed that a new B-21 Raider heavy bomber is now being built along with five other B-21 Raiders in various stages of production at Northrop Grumman’s Air Force Plant 41 located in Palmdale, California.
This report comes after Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall had confirmed that 5 B-21 heavy bombers were already in production last 2021, also located in Northrop Grumman’s Air Force Plant 42. The construction of the 6th bomber only began a few weeks ago.
Armagost, who was speaking at this year’s Nuclear Deterrence Summit held at Arlington, Virginia, updated the recent developments with the program, stating that the new heavy bomber’s aircraft fuel system has been successfully tested in Northrop Grumman’s state-of-the-art digital environment even though it hasn’t been flown yet. The director also stated that it was heavily utilizing digital systems and open mission systems architecture software technologies that are also being used in other weaponry and aircraft produced for the US military.
“The B-21, going into the future, is going to be our penetrating, get inside the anti-access, area of denial, dual-capable aircraft,” he said. Different types of technologies were also explored so that they could be integrated ahead of the aircraft’s first flight.
“So in the B-21, for example, there are technologies that are explored that we can risk-reduce through other platforms, potentially, and integrate ahead of the aircraft even flying. And so it’s kind of an exciting way to get back to that models-based systems engineering [that] has kind of opened up some possibilities on sustainment, interacting with the environment in ways that are useful to the future systems,” he enthusiastically explained.
He further stated that the roll-out of the new aircraft will be some time in 2022 and will be prepared for its first flight shortly afterward. The unveiling of the new aircraft will be the first public showcase of a new Air Force bomber in over three decades since the B-2 Spirit bomber was also unveiled in Northrop Grumman’s Air Force Plant 41 in November 1988.
According to Northrop Grumman’s website, the new B-21 bomber testing will possibly be done at the Edwards Air Force Base in California. Operational units would also be delivered to Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.
It was not confirmed how many B-21s would be produced. However, the US Air Force back in 2021 had stated that it would acquire at least 145 B-21 Raiders to supplant the existing B-2 Spirit stealth bomber fleet as well as the venerable B-1Bs. “I think that…is a reasonable number, at this point. We’re a long way from achieving that, and requirements may change over time…but as a basis to manage the program, I think that’s reasonable right now,” said Kendall in 2021.
The B-1, B-2, and B-52, aircraft are not just known for dropping warheads on foreheads by the US Air Force but are also an instrument of power projection by the United States. All are all slated to remain in service until they are slowly phased out, being replaced by the B-21 Raider somewhere between the mid-2020s to 2040. Characterized by its long-range strike capabilities of deploying conventional and nuclear munitions as well as its capabilities for electronic warfare, the new stealth bomber will be a definite gamer changer to 21st-century aviation and warfare. But during this transition, it is of no question that the new B-21 will be flying with its older bomber brothers in what is to be a historic set of flights.