1 Thing Makes the B-21 Raider Bomber Truly Special and Unstoppable

B-21 Raider
May 31, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: B-21B-2B-21 RaiderMilitaryDefenseU.S. Air Force

1 Thing Makes the B-21 Raider Bomber Truly Special and Unstoppable

If reports are correct, the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation B-21 stealth bomber won’t break the bank when it is introduced into service. The upcoming platform, designed to replace the Air Force’s aging B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers, is estimated to cost roughly $750 million per unit. 

 

Summary: The U.S. Air Force's next-generation B-21 Raider stealth bomber, costing an estimated $750 million per unit, is designed to replace the aging B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers - a truly big deal and much cheaper than the older B-2 bomber.

B-21 Raider

 

-Developed by Northrop Grumman, the B-21 emphasizes affordability and advanced capabilities, crucial for maintaining U.S. air superiority.

-The bomber features an open architecture for integrating new technologies and responding to future threats.

-Despite its classified specs, the B-21 is expected to be smaller and harder to detect than the B-2.

-As global tensions rise, timely deployment and potential increased production of the B-21 are vital for countering adversaries like China and Russia.

If reports are correct, the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation B-21 stealth bomber won’t break the bank when it is introduced into service. The upcoming platform, designed to replace the Air Force’s aging B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers, is estimated to cost roughly $750 million per unit. 

If this number, estimated by GlobalData, holds, the Raiders will actually be less expensive than the Spirit bombers they replace. The bomber’s lower cost will be especially important, considering the Air Force is simultaneously developing its Next Generation Air Dominance fighter jet. While the Raider’s budget will help anchor support for the B-21 program, the timely introduction of the airframe is what matters most. Tensions across the globe are continuing to escalate, and Beijing and Moscow are both pursuing next-generation bomber platforms of their own.

The B-21 Raider - What We Know

Like all U.S. bombers before it, the B-21 is being designed to ensure America’s enduring airpower capability and to cement U.S. air superiority over adversaries for another generation. The B-21 is named to honor the Doolittle Raiders of WWII, whose innovation and daring are recognized for altering the course of the conflict. In 1942, the Raiders became legends when they launched B-25 Mitchell bombers off the flight deck of the USS Hornet before carriers were actually designed for aircraft take-offs. 

The Air Force established the Long Range Strike Bomber program in 2011. Manufacturer Northrop Grumman was awarded the development contract a few years later, outcompeting Lockheed Martin and Boeing. According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office report on the program, Northrop was selected due to the lower costs associated with its design prototype. The bomber was formally designated the B-21 the same year. In 2018, the program completed its critical design review, and the Air Force selected Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota to host the bomber and its training unit. 

B-21 Raider

Once introduced, the bomber will certainly be the most advanced airframe of its kind. It will operate alongside the Boeing B-52J Stratofortress. 

“The B-21 Raider program is on track and continues flight testing at Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing facility on Edwards Air Force Base, Calif,” the Air Force said in a press release. “The B-21 will have an open architecture to integrate new technologies and respond to future threats across the spectrum of operations, greatly enhancing mission effectiveness and joint interoperability in advanced threat environments, strengthening U.S. deterrence and strategic advantage.” 

A senior Air Force official mirrored this rhetoric in a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. 

“We are in the flight test program, the flight test program is proceeding well,” Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, stated during the hearing. “It is doing what flight test programs are designed to do, which is helping us learn about the unique characteristics of this platform, but in a very, very effective way.”

Most of the aircraft’s specs and capabilities remain highly classified. However, the service and Northrop have revealed limited information. According to released footage of the bomber, the Raider is expected to be much smaller than its Spirit predecessor. Based on its smaller size, the B-21 could sport roughly half of the B-2’s 60,000-pound payload capacity. Additionally, a recent Sandboxx News report suggested that the bomber’s wingspan could be around 15% shorter than the Spirit, meaning the new bomber will be harder to detect on radar.  

With the B-21 now expected to cost a lot less than the B-2, perhaps the Air Force could procure more than its planned 100 airframes. Some analysts are concerned that even if the Raider is more advanced than its Chinese counterpart in terms of capabilities, the Xi’an H-20 bomber could be quantitatively superior. Beijing could produce double or triple the number of B-21s, which would certainly impede the Air Force in a potential conflict.

About the Author: Maya Carlin

Maya Carlin, National Security Writer with The National Interest, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin

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