The US Air Force confirmed Oct. 20 it plans to reveal the B-21 Raider Dec. 2 during an unveiling ceremony hosted and sponsored by the Northrop Grumman Corporation at its production facilities in Palmdale, California. 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 U.S. Air Force bomber fleet.
“The unveiling of the B-21 Raider will be a historic moment for our Air Force and the nation,” said US 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 Department of the US Air Force is investing in the aircraft’s long-range strike capability as part of its seven Operational Imperatives as it develops the advanced communications, sensors, and a broad mix of weapons and supporting systems needed to deter our adversaries and prevail in combat. We must invest in long-range strike in a highly contested environment by integrating the B-21 bomber with advanced communications, sensors, and a broad mix of weapons and supporting systems.
After unveiling, the B-21 program will continue its rigorous testing campaign with a combined team of professionals from the US Air Force Test Center, US Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, and Northrop Grumman. Their work will verify performance and identify areas for improvement for the weapon system. That B-21 will fly from Plant 42 at Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base in California next year, where formal flight tests will take place.
“The B-21 program is a powerful example of America’s long experience with fielding advanced military technology through an innovative, adaptable and efficient defense industrial base,” said Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the US Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. “The Air Force made the decision early in the life of the program to make the flight test aircraft production representative, which is paying dividends as we look towards first flight.”
The B-21 weapon system is manufactured under the US Air Force’s contract with Northrop Grumman. It is designed with an open systems architecture, enabling rapid insertion of mature technologies, and allowing the aircraft to remain effective as threats evolve over time. Now the US Air Force has said six B-21s are in various stages of construction.
First flight, now expected in mid-2023, will happen roughly a year after the US Air Force first predicted the new bomber would fly. The service has not said what caused the delay but specifically ruled out supply chain issues stemming from the COVID pandemic.