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US Air Force Debuts the New Stealth Bomber, the B-21 Raider

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US Air Force Debuts its New Stealth Bomber, the B-21 Raider

The US Air Force’s newest B-21 Raider nuclear stealth bomber debuted Friday after 10 years of secret development. It’s part of the Pentagon’s response to rising concerns about a future conflict with China.

First new American bomber in 30 years, the B-21 Raider. The program is classified almost entirely.

The Raider was unveiled in a tightly controlled ceremony at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale. The B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer, and B-2 Spirit flew overhead. The hangar doors opened slowly, and the B-21 was partially removed.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin: “This isn’t another plane.” “It embodies America’s determination to defend our republic”

The B-21 is part of the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched warheads, to meet China’s rapid military modernization.

China is on track to have 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035, and its gains in hypersonics, cyberwarfare, and space pose “the most consequential and systemic challenge” to U.S. national security, the Pentagon said this week in its annual China report.

“We needed a new bomber for the 21st century that could handle threats from China and Russia,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James when the Raider contract was announced in 2015.

Once inside the Raider, the similarities with the B-2 end, says Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden.

“How it operates internally is extremely advanced compared to the B-2 because technology has evolved so much,” Warden said.

Austin said advanced coatings make the bomber harder to detect.

US Air Force Debuts its New Stealth Bomber, the B-21 Raider

This aircraft incorporates 50 years of low-observable technology, Austin said. Even the most advanced air defenses can’t spot a B-21 Raider.

Other advances include new ways to control electronic emissions so the bomber can spoof enemy radars and disguise itself, defence analysts say.

Warden: “It’s incredibly low observability.” “You’ll hear but not see it.”

Six Raiders are manufactured. The Air Force plans to build 100 bombers that can carry nuclear or conventional weapons without a crew. The bomber went from contract award to debut in seven years, say the Air Force and Northrop. Other ship and fighter programs took decades.

Unknown cost. The Air Force estimated each would cost $550 million in 2010 dollars, or $753 million today, but it’s unclear how much is being spent. How many bombers the Pentagon buys will determine the total.

Soon, we’ll fly, test, and produce this plane. We’ll build the bomber force to match the strategic environment, said Austin.

Dan Grazier, a senior defence policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, said analyzing a major program like this could be difficult. “Before the B-21 flies, it’s easy to say it’s on schedule. Because real problems are only found during testing.” Schedules and costs slip, he said.

Due to cost overruns and a changed security environment after the Soviet Union fell, the Air Force only built 21 B-2s. Due to maintenance needs, fewer than that are ready to fly on any given day.

The B-21 Raider will be smaller than the B-2 to increase its range, Warden said. First flight is 2023. Northrop Grumman has tested the bomber’s performance using a digital twin, a virtual replica unveiled Friday.

Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota will host the bomber’s first training program and squadron. The bombers will also be stationed in Texas and Missouri.

South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds led the state’s bomber program bid. He called it “the most advanced weapon system ever developed by our country”

Warden said Northrop Grumman has used B-2 maintenance lessons.

B-2 pilots flew 44 hours straight to drop the first bombs in Afghanistan after 9/11. Few hangars can accommodate the B-2’s wingspan, limiting where it can land for maintenance. Hot climates can cook cockpit electronics because the Spirit’s windows don’t open.

US Air Force Debuts its New Stealth Bomber, the B-21 Raider

Warden said the new B-21 Raider will need larger and more complex hangars.

With its long range, the Raider won’t need to be based in theater, Austin said. It doesn’t need logistical support to threaten targets.

The debut was also different. The B-2 was rolled out in Palmdale in 1988 to much fanfare. Due to surveillance satellites and cameras, the Raider was only partially exposed, keeping its sensitive propulsion systems and sensors in the hangar.

“The platform’s magic is what you can’t see,” said Warden.

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