B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber Already Looks Like a Big Success

B-21 Raider

B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber Already Looks Like a Big Success

Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract to produce the next-generation bomber in 2015, and the company quickly assembled a nationwide team to design, test, and build the B-21 Raider.

B-21 Raider Begins Low-Rate Production - The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider has entered low-rate production, it was announced on Tuesday. William LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told Air & Space Forces Magazine that Northrop Grumman has been awarded the low-rate initial production contract for the B-21 bomber.

"This past fall, based on the results of ground and flight tests and the team's mature plans for manufacturing, I gave the go-ahead to begin producing B-21s at a low rate," LaPlante said in a statement to Air & Space Forces Magazine.

"Production of the B-21 'Raider' stealth bomber is moving forward," he added. "One of the key attributes of this program has been designing for production from the start­and at scale­to provide a credible deterrent to adversaries. If you don’t produce and field to warfighters at scale, the capability doesn't really matter."

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) did not supply the contract amount, the number of aircraft the low-rate production covers, or the exact date it was awarded. However, LaPlante's statement indicates it was before the end of 2023.

"As shared by the U.S. Air Force, the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider has entered low-rate initial production. Our team received the contract award after B-21 entered flight testing within the program baseline schedule. Our production representative test aircraft indicated readiness for production, achieving all flight performance and data requirements," Northrop Grumman said in a statement to Breaking Defense.

"As the world's first six-generation aircraft, B-21 forms the backbone of the future for U.S. air power, delivering a new era of capability and flexibility through advanced integration of data, sensors and weapons, and is rapidly upgradable to outpace evolving threats," the aerospace firm and prime contractor on the Raider program added.

Six B-21 Raider Prototypes – Production Aircraft Coming Soon

Northrop Grumman previously stated that six prototype aircraft were in various stages of production for future testing – but each is also being built on the same production line, using the same tools, processes, and technicians who will build production aircraft. This approach has enabled production engineers and technicians to capture lessons learned and apply them directly to follow-on aircraft, driving home a focus on repeatability, producibility, and quality.

It was only 13 months ago that the Raider was officially unveiled at a ceremony at Northrop Grumman's facility in Palmdale. It was the first new U.S. Air Force strategic bomber to be introduced to the public in a generation and the first since the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit made its public debut back in November 1988. While similar in appearance to the B-2, the Raider is actually a generational leap in aircraft technology and development.

The Raider was developed to be the multifunctional backbone of the modernized bomber fleet, gradually replacing the aging B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers now in service. A dual-capable penetrating strike stealth aircraft, the B-21 will be capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions.

B-21 Raider

Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract to produce the next-generation bomber in 2015, and the company quickly assembled a nationwide team to design, test, and build the B-21.

The aircraft was developed to employ an open systems architecture that would enable rapid future capability integration to keep pace with the highly contested threat environment. In addition, The Raider's design is based on firm requirements with existing and mature technology to control program costs. In fact, the plane's prime contractor, Northrop Grumman, has been directed to use production processes, production tooling, and a production workforce that ensures sustained and seamless production while avoiding unnecessary costs.

Test Flights Underway for the B-21 

In November, the B-21 Raider – named for the 80 men who took part in the World War II "Doolittle Raid" on Tokyo in the spring of 1942 – successfully took its maiden test flight in Palmdale, California, where the bomber is currently undergoing testing.

B-21 Raider

Since then, a prototype Raider flew a test sortie from Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California. That flight occurred on January 17 and was the second acknowledged flight of the second-generation stealth bomber.

B-21 Raider

The U.S. Air Force confirmed the flight test had occurred after aviation enthusiasts noticed that an aircraft with call sign RAIDR13 appeared on flight tracking sites, AviationWeek.com reported. A similar call sign was also used by a chase aircraft during the first flight of the B-21 on Nov. 10 at Palmdale, California. That bomber – nicknamed Cerberus, after the multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld in Greek mythology – arrived at Edwards at the conclusion of its maiden flight.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: [email protected].