B-21 stealth bomber production is being accelerated

B-21 Raider's predecessor, the B-2. USAF photo
B-21 Raider's predecessor, the B-2. USAF photo

The US Air Force (USAF) is accelerating manufacturing of its new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, ahead of its public roll-out and first flight this year.

Northrop Grumman president and CEO, Kathy Warden, told reporters on a quarterly earnings call more on the highly classified defence programme. Air Force Magazine reported Warden said “the government is looking at layering” production of the Raider “on top of” its development phase.

B-21 production rates continue to be classified, but Warden confirmed the programme has been successful enough that a $67m performance incentive fee has been added for meeting an unnamed target in the first quarter.

B-2's 30th anniversary celebration at Plant 42 in Palmdale, California in 2020
B-2's 30th anniversary celebration at Plant 42 in Palmdale, California in 2020

David Keffer, Northop Grumman’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, also said that full-rate production costs “have yet to be negotiated,” shielding the programme from inflationary problems with fixed-price contracts.

Low rate initial production will begin in 2023, Keffer stated, and run in parallel with the engineering and manufacturing development phase “for a period of time.”

In April, Northrop Grumman was awarded a $108m contract by USAF for advance procurement to support the programme. Advance procurement funds will directly support the acquisition of long lead items necessary to build the first lot of production B-21 aircraft.

Six B-21 test aircraft are currently in production at USAF's Plant 42 facility in Palmdale, California, under the engineering and manufacturing development phase. They are being made using the same tooling, processes and technicians that will build the production aircraft in the coming years.

The first flight test aircraft recently entered its ground testing phase ahead of a public roll-out and first flight, which is scheduled for this year. An exact date for this is yet to be confirmed. 


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