In a presentation long on stagecraft and short on hard facts, Northrop Grumman has revealed the US Air Force’s long-anticipated B-21 Raider stealth nuclear strategic bomber, which will replace all other heavy bombers in the American inventory.
At a tightly controlled ceremony at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the B-21 Raider was introduced to the public after years of speculation as to the nature of the latest and most advanced stealth bomber.
To sombre music heavy on percussion, the audience of dignitaries watched as hangar doors slowly opened to reveal a dramatically lit interior with the aircraft hidden under a huge shroud. On cue, the backlit shroud was pulled away and, under the supervision of the ground crew, the B-21 was towed forward.
The lighting was kept low, so details were almost impossible to make out aside from the general outline showing the B-21 shares the same flying-wing design as the currently serving B-2 bomber.
Described by Northrop Grumman as the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft, it boasts an open-architecture design, advanced integration of data, sensors, and weapons. Beyond that not much has been publicly revealed, though it has been speculated that the engines incorporate lessons learned from those made for the F-35 Lightning II fighter and have a stealth coating that requires less maintenance than that of the B-2. In addition, its more advanced design may incorporate new stealth features, including new engine intakes and outlets, and the use of radar-absorbing ceramics in the engine design that are less susceptible to wear than the polymer versions used in present stealth aircraft.
Named after the Dolittle Raiders of the Second World War, the B-21 Raider will join the B-1B, B-2, and B-52 aircraft of the Air Force bomber fleet and will eventually replace all of them by 2050. However, the US Air Force inventory has been badly neglected since the end of the Cold War and the bomber force has shrunk to the point where only about 15 heavy bombers can be brought into combat at any one time.
With the deteriorating international situation, Northrop Grumman is working to speed up production by introducing digital engineering methods and skipping building an experimental prototype in favor of one that is as close as possible to the production variant. Even then, the first B-21 is not expected to become fully operational until 2030.
When it does, it will have such a long range that it will not require basing overseas or forward logistical support bases. It will also be capable of networking with battle-space assets on land, sea, air, and space, and will be capable of quickly incorporating new technologies as they are developed.
“The B-21 Raider is a testament to America’s enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation,” said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. “And it’s proof of the Department’s long-term commitment to building advanced capabilities that will fortify America’s ability to deter aggression, today and into the future. Now, strengthening and sustaining U.S. deterrence is at the heart of our National Defense Strategy. This bomber was built on a foundation of strong, bipartisan support in Congress. And because of that support, we will soon fly this aircraft, test it and then move into production.”
The video below recaps the unveiling ceremony.
Source: Northrop Grumman