After years of secret development, the United States Air Force has released their latest stealth aircraft, the B-21 Raider. This is as tensions rise over a possible future conflict with China. The Raider is America’s first new bomber in over three decades. Almost all aspects of the multi-billion bomber are classified.
Northrop Grumman unveils its new B-21 nuclear bomber for the U.S. Air Force https://t.co/0b1lL6yiHI pic.twitter.com/vL4ucFWWes
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 3, 2022
The official unveiling ceremony.
The reveal in Palmdale, California, started with a gathering of dignitaries and a flyover by the three American Bombers still in service: the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-1 Lancer, and the B-2 Spirit. The B-52 first flew in 1954 and went on to become a cold-war icon. In March, Rolls Royce and Boeing announced the $2.6 billion Commercial Engine Replacement Program designed to keep the Stratofortress flying into the 2050s – a full century after the first one was flown.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke at the unveiling. He said;
“This isn’t just another airplane. It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love.”
The contract for the Raider was first announced in 2015. At that time, Deborah Lee James was Secretary of the Air Force. Remarking on the final release of our newest bomber, she said,” We needed a new bomber for the 21st Century that would allow us to take on much more complicated threats, like the threats that we fear we would one day face from China, Russia.”
Kathy Warden, chief executive at Northrop Grumman Corporation, quickly acknowledges the external similarities between the older B-2 and the brand-new B-21. But, she says, “once you get inside, the similarities stop.” Warden continues, “The way it operates internally is extremely advanced compared to the B-2, because the technology has evolved so much in terms of the computing capability that we can now embed in the software of the B-21.”
At this point, as reported in The Washington Post, Secretary Austin chimed in to remind us that the new bomber utilizes new materials and coatings that make it harder to spot on radar. He says, “Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft. Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky.”
Warden reminds us, “It is incredibly low observability. You’ll hear it, but you really won’t see it.” The aircraft also features multiple electronic advances allowing the B-21 to disguise itself as another object by controlling its electronic emissions.
Awesome video sent to me by an anonymous friend! pic.twitter.com/8VRClLZYmr
— Combat Learjet (@Combat_learjet) November 25, 2022
Quick, is this a B-21 or a B-2? It’s a B-2, but I thought it was cool footage, so I posted it. The B-21 has not flown yet but is scheduled to do so in 2023. Warden tells us, however, that extensive virtual flight tests have been done with advanced computing techniques utilizing a “digital twin”; a virtual replica of the real thing.
It is interesting how the “Raider” name came about. It’s a nod to the 1942 Doolittle Raid over Toyko. The attacks served as the first retribution for the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and though they caused relatively little damage, they served as a huge morale boost to an American public thirsty for revenge. As a response to the raid, the Japanese launched the Zhejiang-Jiangxi campaign (Operation Sei-go), killing 250,000 civilians and 70,000 soldiers.
The Air Force has plans to build 100 Raiders eventually, but it is impossible to tell what the final number will be. They originally planned to build over 100 B-2 bombers but only made 21. Six raiders are currently in production…their cost is unknown, or at least no one is saying. The Air Force estimated their average cost to be $550 million in 2010. As we know, inflation has knocked up the price of everything since then, and today that estimate would be approximately $753 million per aircraft.
The classified cost is troubling to organizations that keep an eye on this sort of thing. WaPo talked to Dan Grazier about this. Grazier is a senior defense policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight. According to their website, they are “a nonpartisan, independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing.”
Grazier remarks, “It might be a big challenge for us to do our normal analysis of a major program like this. It’s easy to say that the B-21 is still on schedule before it actually flies. Because it’s only when one of these programs goes into the actual testing phase when real problems are discovered.”
Let’s hope those first flights go smoothly. The first home to the B-21 will be Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. In the future, the bombers are also expected to be stationed in Missouri and Texas.