The first two B-21 Raider stealth bombers are assembled and ready for testing, a US Air Force executive has revealed.
Speaking at a House Armed Services subcommittee on projection forces yesterday, US Air Force acting acquisition executive Darlene Costello also said it’s too soon to accelerate the programme.
When speaking about whether the B-21 Raider development can be accelerated, Costello said the priority is “to get through the design, get completed, and not introduce concurrency” in the programme.
“Once we get through design and get the first ones delivered, we can adjust production rates and maybe affect them that way, but we have to get through the engineering with solid discipline,” she said.
When asked about how complete the stealth bomber’s design is, Costello said: “We have the design. There are two test aircraft built and it will take a while to get through all the testing. And therefore, there could be some changes as a result of the testing.”
The B-21 programme is on schedule and on budget, it was recently revealed by a top US lawmaker after a briefing on the defence programme.
Congressman Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said the briefing was “one of the most positive, encouraging things that I’ve had happen to me in the last couple of weeks.”
Smith explained the US Air Force appears to have “learned the lessons” of the over-budget F-35 programme. By contrast, the B-21, being manufactured by Northrop Grumman, is “on time, on budget, and they’re making it work in a very intelligent way.”
Northrop Grumman is currently developing the two B-21 prototypes at USAF’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. The first of these is scheduled to have its first flight in 2022.
The plane was originally meant to fly as early as December 2021, but a new schedule means it will not have its first flight until 2022.
The US Air Force wants to acquire at least 145 B-21 Raiders from Northrop Grumman, estimated to cost in excess of $90 billion.
In 2010 dollars, USAF said at contract award that it expected the jets to come in at $511 million each. Adjusted to inflation, this would come in at $626 million and in excess of $90 billion for 145 units. However, the contract-award number was calculated against a buy of 100 airplanes – a larger volume of production would naturally drive unit costs lower.
This article was originally titled "First two B-21 Raider stealth bombers are complete and ready for testing." The title was changed to better reflect the state of the two aircraft, which are still in production and may be altered following testing.