Air Force Says B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber Will Fly Sometime This Year
Half a dozen bombers are already in production. The new B-21 will be the stealthiest aircraft ever built.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Jason R. Armagost said that the new B-21 Raider would most likely fly sometime this year while speaking at the 2022 Nuclear Deterrence Summit.
“The B-21, going into the future, is going to be our penetrating, get inside the anti-access, area of denial, dual-capable aircraft,” said Maj. Gen. Armagost, according to Air Force Magazine. “There are now six of those in existence. The rollout will probably be some time this year. I’m not at liberty to give the likely date of that, but [it will be] quickly followed by first flight.”
Digital Design Saves Time, Money
Despite the new stealth bomber’s complexity, development has moved quickly thanks in large part to digital design and testing. These techniques save both money and valuable time.
“We are capitalizing on the revolution in digital—models-based systems engineering, open mission systems architecture software,” Armagost said. “As an example, the software for the fuel control system, which is a pretty complex thing, is completely done on an aircraft that hasn’t even flown yet as a test article, because of how we’re able to do models-based systems engineering.”
The Air Force “actually built a fuel systems model and tested the software, and the software is ready to go,” Armagost said.
Late last year, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced that five B-21s were already in production at the Northrop Grumman production line in Palmdale, California.
Armagost added the Raider includes “technologies that are explored that we can risk-reduce through other platforms, potentially, and integrate ahead of the aircraft even flying. And so it’s kind of an exciting way to get back to that models-based systems engineering [that] has kind of opened up some possibilities on sustainment, interacting with the environment in ways that are really useful to the future systems.”
Stealth Made Easier
Stealth aircraft have historically been difficult to maintain: the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, the B-21’s predecessor, is extremely stealthy but needs a climate-controlled hangar to maintain its stealthy fuselage coating. That will change with the B-21.
Northrup Grumman officials previously described the B-21 as a significant improvement over the B-2 in terms of “survivability and aero-performance perspective,” but also with a stealth coating that is “revolutionary” in its maintainability.
Though not yet ready to be publicly revealed, this year will likely see the unveiling of the United States' newest, stealthiest, and most capable strategic bomber ever. As a result, 2022 will be one of the United States Air Force’s most significant years in decades.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.
Image: U.S. Air Force.