Northrop Grumman is currently working on five B-21 Raider bombers for the US Air Force, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall revealed at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in Maryland.
The service’s future stealth bombers are in various stages of assembly at the company’s California plant.
The B-21 program is currently in the Engineering & Manufacturing Development (EMD) Phase, and it is unclear exactly how many of the next-generation bombers will be procured/built in this stage.
Kendall’s announcement on September 20 was preceded by a previous confirmation that the service had two airframes under construction.
The Air Force’s Rapid Capability Office said earlier this year that the first bomber had not entered final assembly but the pace of the program indicates that the service could be well on its track to hit the planned first flight milestone in 2022.
“You will never hear me make optimistic predictions about programs. All programs have risk and the same is true of the B-21, but at this point at least, the program is making good progress to real fielded capability,” Kendall said at the conference.
The Air Force recently revealed new B-21 Raider artist renderings showing the aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Edwards AFB is where the 420th Flight Test Squadron will be based for all flight and ground testing of the B-21 Raider.
Designed to perform long range conventional and nuclear missions and to operate in high end threat environments, the B-21 will be a new component of the nuclear triad.
The B-21 Raider will be a strike stealth bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions. It 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.
The Air Force awarded the B-21 engineering and manufacturing development contract to Northrop Grumman on October 27, 2015. Northrop Grumman’s partners on the B-21 program include Pratt & Whitney, Janicki Industries, Collins Aerospace, GKN Aerospace, BAE Systems and Spirit Aerosystems.
The Air Force 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 program is on track to deliver B-21s to the first operational base, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, in the mid-2020s.