The US Air Force has unveiled the sixth-generation B-21 Raider bomber in a ceremony livestreamed from Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California, plant on December 2.
The B-21 is a long-range, highly survivable, penetrating strike stealth bomber that will incrementally replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers, becoming the backbone of the US Air Force bomber fleet.
“The unveiling of the B-21 Raider will be a historic moment for our Air Force and the nation,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. “We last introduced a new bomber over 30 years ago. As we look to the threats posed by our pacing challenge; we must continue to rapidly modernize. The B-21 Raider will provide formidable combat capability across a range of operations in highly contested environments of the future.”
The B-21 is the first new bomber to be introduced since the end of the Cold War. Air Force officials envision an ultimate fleet of at least 100 aircraft with an average procurement unit cost requirement of $692 million (base year 2022 dollars).
“That innovative spirit is sitting behind us right now,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., told reporters shortly before the plane was unveiled.
“You think about what we’re able to do in the amount of time with the workforce here from Northrop Grumman, the collaboration with the United States Air Force to bring in a capability using a digital approach which is new and different from anything we’ve done any major program, that’s part of the Raider spirit,” he said.
“When I think about accelerate change, this is exactly what it means to be able to bring this kind of capability very quickly and be able to adapt it vis-à-vis the threat,” Brown said in his meeting with reporters. “And so today, I’m really excited that we bring the B-21 Raider into the future. It’ll be the backbone of our bomber fleet.”
While the precise date when the B-21 will enter service is unknown, basing decisions have been made. Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota will become the first Main Operating Base and formal training unit for the B-21. Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, are the preferred locations for the remaining home bases. Each will receive aircraft as they become available.
The nuclear-capable B-21 will join the United States’ strategic triad as a visible and flexible deterrent. 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. In addition to being nuclear-capable, the bomber will accommodate manned or unmanned operations.
B-21 is set to undertake its first flight shortly after it is unveiled to the public for the first time during an invitation-only event. This is expected to take place sometime in 2023, eight years after Northrop was selected to develop the new bomber.
According to Northrop, six B-21 test aircraft are in various stages of final assembly in Palmdale, California. The company and the US Air Force confirmed that the B-21 first flight is projected for 2023, but the actual timing of first flight will be based on ground test outcomes.
The B-21 Raider is named in honor of the Doolittle Raid of World War II when 80 airmen, led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, and 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers set off on a mission that changed the course of World War II. The actions of these 80 volunteers were instrumental in shifting momentum in the Pacific theater. This marked the raid as a catalyst to a multitude of future progress in US air superiority from land or sea. The courageous spirit of the Doolittle Raiders is the inspiration behind the name of the B-21 Raider.