While the B-21 Raider has not been officially revealed yet, the US Air Force has been releasing limited ‘artist rendering graphics’ in the lead up to its first flight in 2022.
In July, the service released a new image along with a fact sheet, highlighting that this rendering, along with past images, is an artist’s interpretation of the B-21 design.
The new rendering highlights the future stealth bomber with Edwards Air Force Base, California, as the backdrop.
The B-21 programme continues to execute the engineering and manufacturing development phase and is focused on scaling the manufacturing infrastructure and capacity across the industrial supply base to prepare for low rate initial production.
Designed to perform long range conventional and nuclear missions, the B-21 will be a visible and flexible component of the US nuclear triad.
The Air Force plans to incrementally replace the B-1 and the B-2 bombers to form a two-bomber fleet of B-21s and modified B-52s.
The B-21 programme is on track to deliver B-21s to the first operational base, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, in the mid-2020s.
In June, USAF said the first two B-21 Raiders are ready to start testing. It was later corrected that the two aircraft still remain in production while testing begins, after Costello said the aircraft are “complete.”
Speaking at a House Armed Services subcommittee on projection forces, acting acquisition executive Darlene Costello said: “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.”
In an interview with Air Force Magazine in January, Randall Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, revealed the second B-21 was in production. The first unit is also expected to roll out in early 2022 and fly in the middle of that year.
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.
“Our early and continued investment in infrastructure, design maturation, risk reduction and our workforce has been a significant driver of progress on our first two aircraft on the production line in Palmdale,” said Steve Sullivan, vice president and general manager, strike division, Northrop Grumman. “As a result, we are well-positioned for low-rate initial production following key milestones in 2022 and beyond.”
USAF 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.
"Nuclear modernisation is a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Air Force, and B-21 is key to that plan,” said Randall Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. “The built-in feature of open systems architecture on the B-21 makes the bomber effective as the threat environment evolves. This aircraft design approach sets the nation on the right path to ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability.”