The US Air Force has released a new B-21 Raider image, its new strategic stealth bomber that will fly for the first time next year.
The new rendering highlights the future stealth bomber with Edwards Air Force Base, California, as the backdrop.
The B-21 programme continues to undergo 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.
Prime contractor Northrop Grumman is manufacturing two units of the stealth aircraft at USAF’s Plant 41 in Palmsdale, California. The first of these is scheduled to have its first flight in 2022.
Designed to perform long range conventional and nuclear missions, the B-21 will be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad.
"Nuclear modernization 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.”
USAF plans to incrementally replace the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit 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.
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 is “on time, on budget, and they’re making it work in a very intelligent way.”
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 2019 dollars, USAF says each B-21 will cost $639 million each. For 145, it would cost the service approximately $93 billion.