Six B-21 stealth bombers are now in production, USAF confirms

A sixth B-21 Raider stealth bomber is now in assembly, the US Air Force has confirmed ahead of the aircraft’s public roll-out this year.

Jason Armagost, director of strategic plans, programmes, and requirements at Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) provided this latest update at this year’s Nuclear Deterrence Summit.

“The B-21, going into the future, is going to be our penetrating, get inside the anti-access, area of denial, dual-capable aircraft,” Armagost said. “There are now six of those in existence.”

Armagost continued to explain how technology from the B-21 development may be used in other stealth programmes: "One of the things that I’m most excited about is the requirements for new systems that haven’t even flown yet. The fact that there’s a modernisation effort built into those already, right?" he said. "So in the B-21, for example, there’s technologies that are explored that we can risk-reduce through other platforms, potentially, and integrate ahead of the aircraft even flying. And so it’s kind of an exciting way to get back to that models-based systems engineering [that] has kind of opened up some possibilities on sustainment, interacting with the environment in ways that are really useful to the future systems."

The six stealth bombers are being assembled at USAF's Plant 42 facility in Palmdale, California, as part of the programme’s engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase by prime contractor Northrop Grumman.

The B-21’s first flight is expected later this year, with deliveries to the first operational base, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, in the mid-2020s.

Doug Young, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s strike division, says significant progress on the B-21 can be credited to a strong customer partnership, early application of digital tools and a talented workforce.

“We have a nationwide industry team who has shown tremendous dedication and grit over the past 18 months,” Young said. “Combined with our extensive collaboration and transparency with our Air Force customer, and the success we’ve had in bringing digital tools into our design and production processes, the B-21 program is leading the way in many respects.”

The use of augmented and virtual reality, and ground and airborne test beds have been recently cited as enablers of programme progress and risk reduction.

“The integration of our digital design capabilities with our advanced manufacturing technologies means we’re working smarter and faster to bring next-generation technologies to life,” said Chris Daughters, aeronautics sector vice president of engineering at Northrop Grumman. “Our ability to continually reduce risk throughout EMD by utilising these transformative digital capabilities is going to pay dividends throughout the full lifecycle of the aircraft.”

Other industry partners on the programme include Pratt & Whitney, Janicki Industries, Collins Aerospace, GKN Aerospace, BAE Systems and Spirit Aerosystems.

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