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Northrop gets advance procurement contract for B-21 Raider bomber

B-21 Raider
US Air Force graphic of a B-21 Raider

The US Air Force has awarded Northrop Grumman a $108 million contract for advance procurement in support of the B-21 Raider bomber program.

Advance procurement funds will directly support the acquisition of long lead items necessary to build the first lot of production B-21 aircraft.

Northrop Grumman is already working on six of the next-generation bombers after air force officials first revealed in September last year that five airframes were in construction. In February this year, the air force confirmed a total of six bombers were in assembly at the service’s Plant 42 facility in Palmdale, California.

“The B-21 Raider program is foundational to the Air Force’s operational imperative for an effective, long-range strike family of systems to guarantee our ability to strike any target, anytime, anywhere, even in the most contested environment,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.

“As the Air Force celebrates its 75th anniversary, the Raider is a standout example of the innovation and pursuit of game-changing technology that have characterized our service since its inception,” Brown continued. “The quality of the aircraft build, coupled with its open systems architecture design and built-in margin for future growth, will provide our warfighters the competitive advantage we’ll need to deter current and future conflicts, and fight and win if called upon to do so.”

The B-21 test aircraft currently being manufactured under the Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract with Northrop Grumman are being built on the same production line, using the same tooling, processes and technicians that will build the production aircraft.

“The B-21 test aircraft are the most production-representative aircraft, both structurally and in its mission systems, at this point in a program, that I’ve observed in my career. The right decisions are being made on this program to pave the way for a high-fidelity flight test campaign and for an effective transition to production,” shared Randall Walden, Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director.

The first B-21 flight test aircraft recently entered loads calibration to undergo verification and validation testing of its structural design prior to flight. After loads calibration, further integration and ground testing will inform the program schedule and flight readiness.

The fiscal year 2022 Defense Appropriations Act provided funding for five new military construction projects to stand-up the B-21 mission at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, the Raider’s first main operating base. Construction of a low observable maintenance hangar, the first of its kind on the 80-year-old conventional bomber base, is already underway.

An environmental impact statement is set to begin this year to inform final decisions on the second and third main operating bases to bed-down the full B-21 fleet. As announced by the Secretary of the Air Force in 2019, preferred locations for the second and third B-21 main operating bases are Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, respectively.

The 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.