B-21 bomber is on time, on budget, US Air Force briefing says

One of the only artist rendering of the B-21 Raider released
One of the only artist rendering of the B-21 Raider released

The B-21 Raider seems to be safely on schedule and on budget, a top lawmaker in the US has said after a recent briefing on the programme.

Congressman Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said a recent briefing on the stealth bomber programme 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, being manufactured by Northrop Grumman, is "on time, on budget, and they’re making it work in a very intelligent way."

The B-21’s progress is part of a larger trend at the Department of Defense, Smith added: “I will just say that I’ve never in my 24 years seen a situation where there seemed like more hope, more urgency, to make those changes.”

The plane was originally meant to fly as early as December 2021, according to USAF, but a new schedule means it will not have its first flight until 2022.

That aircraft along with a second test aircraft is in the works at Northrop Grumman’s Aircraft Integration Center of Excellence in Palmdale, California.

The B-21 is designed to carry both conventional and nuclear weapons —and is meant to enter service by 2027.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in 2018 the Air Force has estimated that developing and procuring the first 100 aircraft will cost $80 billion (in 2016 dollars).

The CBO also says one B-21 with 10 Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) cruise missiles and capable of launching eight nuclear warheads would cost $500 million, and $40 million a year (in 2020 dollars) to maintain.

Infrastructure investments have yielded significant benefits in the design and assembly of the B-21 Raider. Northrop Grumman’s highly skilled workforce leverages cutting-edge technologies—including highly immersive virtual environments, and both augmented and virtual reality—to drive innovation in digital engineering and advanced manufacturing to build a producible, sustainable and maintainable 21st century bomber.

“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.”

An example of the impact of these infrastructure and employee investments was a recent systems integration demonstration that further matured B-21 hardware and software integration, recently praised by the Air Force. These efforts are instrumental to the Raider’s rapid development.

“We’re not getting something experimental,” said Dr. Will Roper, the former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, in a January 2021 Aviation Week interview. “We expect to get a representation of the full production [aircraft] to first flight. It is being designed for production innovation, for maintainability and sustainability, up front and back.”

As the program continues to prepare for the Rise of the Raider, Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force are continuing their steadfast collaboration to provide the long-range penetrating strike aircraft the nation needs.


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