New images of B-21 stealth bomber emerge ahead of first flight

US Air Force

Two new images of the B-21 Raider have been released by the US Air Force as the aircraft is prepared for its first flight later this year.

The stealth bomber is a collaboration between USAF and Northrop Grumman. It will form the backbone of the future for US air power, leading a family of systems that delivers advanced integration of data, sensors and weapons. Its sixth-generation capabilities include stealth, information advantage and open architecture.

Capable of networking across the battlespace to multiple systems, and into all domains, the new bomber is supported by a digital ecosystem throughout its lifecycle. This capability will allow the B-21 to quickly evolve through rapid technology upgrades that provide new capabilities designed to outpace future threats.

The service is hosting this year’s Air Force Association Warfare Symposium this week outside of Denver, Colorado. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall commented there on the new aircraft: “The B-21, which we rolled out just a few months ago, will be the centrepiece for our Global Strike family of systems. The B-21 is projected to begin flight tests later this calendar year. Our goal is to get into production as quickly as possible with acceptable concurrency risk… overlapping some testing production."

The second image shows a close-up of the B-21's nose and cockpit

While the new stealth aircraft isn’t expected to be operational and introduced into service for several more years, the first aircraft was formally unveiled at a ceremony in December 2022 by Northrop Grumman at its production facilities in California.

The B-21 is designed to be a more capable and adaptable aircraft that will gradually replace aging B-1 and B-2 bombers now in service.

According to design requirements, the B-21 is a long-range, highly survivable stealth bomber capable of delivering a mix of conventional and nuclear munitions. The aircraft will play a major role supporting national security objectives and assuring US allies and partners across the globe.

“The B-21 Raider is the first strategic bomber in more than three decades,” US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin said during December’s ceremony. “It is a testament to America’s enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation. 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.”

The B-21 is the first new bomber to be introduced since the end of the Cold War. USAF officials envision an ultimate fleet of at least 100 aircraft with an average procurement unit cost requirement of $692m (base year 2022 dollars).

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