Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider is now in production, USAF confirms


The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is now in production, the US Pentagon acquisition chief confirmed earlier this week.

William LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said in a statement on 22nd January that low-rate production for the sixth generation stealth bomber was approved late last year after the results of ground and flight tests.

LaPlante also said the B-21 team’s “mature plans for manufacturing” contributed to the decision to move forward with production of the new aircraft.

“This past fall, based on the results of ground and flight tests and the team’s mature plans for manufacturing, I gave the go-ahead to begin producing B-21s at a low rate,” LaPlante said. “Production of the B-21 Raider stealth bomber is moving forward.”

“One of the key attributes of this programme has been designing for production from the start – and at scale – to provide a credible deterrent to adversaries,” he added. “If you don’t produce and field to warfighters at scale, the capability doesn’t really matter.”

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

Six B-21 Raiders are currently in various stages of final assembly and test at Northrop Grumman’s plant in Palmdale, California. The US Air Force plans to ultimately have a fleet of at least 100 B-21s.

The B-21 was unveiled at a ceremony at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California in December 2022
The B-21 was unveiled at a ceremony at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California in December 2022

Northrop Grumman describes the B-21 as the next evolution of the USAF strategic bomber fleet, providing USAF long range, high survivability and mission payload flexibility. The B-21’s objective is to penetrate the toughest defences for precision strikes anywhere in the world.

USAF awarded the B-21 Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract to October 2015. Northrop Grumman’s partners on the programme include Pratt & Whitney, Janicki Industries, Collins Aerospace, GKN Aerospace, BAE Systems and Spirit Aerosystems.

The B-21 can deliver both conventional and nuclear munitions. It will form the backbone of the future Air Force bomber force consisting of B-21s and B-52s. Designed to operate in a high-end threat environment, the B-21 is intended to play a critical role in ensuring US airpower capability.

The B-21 Raider will be a component of a larger family of systems for conventional Long Range Strike, including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, electronic attack, communication and other capabilities. It will be nuclear capable and designed to accommodate manned or unmanned operations. Additionally, it will be able to employ a broad mix of stand-off and direct-attack munitions. 

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