The B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber Is Super Expensive

B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber U.S. Air Force
January 26, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: B-21 RaiderB-21Stealth BomberBomberU.S. Air ForceMilitaryDefense

The B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber Is Super Expensive

The greatest threat to the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider, the future backbone of the United States Air Force's bomber fleet, may not be a Russian air defense missile but rather it could be the aircraft's costs.

The greatest threat to the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider, the future backbone of the United States Air Force's bomber fleet, may not be a Russian air defense missile but rather it could be the aircraft's costs.

The bomber is on track to be one of the Pentagon's priciest platforms to date – so much so that the service could be hard-pressed to buy enough of the Raider bombers in coming years.

On Thursday, Northrop Grumman announced that saw a fourth-quarter loss from a year-earlier profit, as it took a $1.17 billion charge related to the B-21. Shares of the Falls Church, Virginia-based company, which lost around 15% of their value in 2023, were trading down 6.2% in New York, Reuters reported.

The aerospace firm now expects to lose money even as the stealth bomber is set to enter low-rate initial production (LRIP).

"We believe it is probable each of the first five LRIP lots will be performed at a loss," Northrop said. However, the exact number of aircraft in those lots is unknown.

The B-21 Raider program is expected to include more than 100 bombers, and it has most of its production covered under a cost-plus contract, which means the Air Force (and in turn the American taxpayer) will reimburse the company for the extra expenses it incurs due to inflation.

B-21 Raider: High-Tech Bomber

The B-21 was designed with the latest stealth technology, enabling it to penetrate deep into enemy territory for strike missions, even against adversaries with the latest radar and air defenses, according to a report from Defense News.

The Raider – named for the 80 men who took part in the World War II "Doolittle Raid" on Tokyo in the spring of 1942 – was developed to be the multifunctional backbone of the modernized bomber fleet, gradually replacing the aging Rockwell 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-2 Bomber

The B-21 program has been seen as relatively successful and on largely on schedule. The aircraft made its public debut almost 14 months ago in early December 2022, and took its maiden flight last November.

Six prototype aircraft are in various stages of production, and those aircraft are being built on the same lines, using the same tools and processes that will build the eventual production Raiders 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.

In addition to building a bomber with state-of-the-art technology and capabilities, U.S. Air Force officials have further emphasized the focus on containing costs while simultaneously allowing for maximum flexibility. The B-21 has been noted for being designed with an open systems architecture that would enable rapid future capability integration to keep pace with the highly contested threat environment.

Some 8,000 employees of Northrop Grumman and various other defense contractors of all sizes, spread across 40 states, have been secretly building the Air Force's new stealth bomber. Great efforts have been taken to prevent China and other potential adversaries from gaining access to any of its technology.

B-21 Raider

The B-21 Raider and the Cost Issue

Northrop Chief Executive Officer Kathy Warden had warned investors throughout 2023 that the company was expected to see losses on the B-21 as the aircraft moved to the early production stage.

Last year, the Air Force also provided about $50 million in inflation relief funding for the initial LRIP lot, while the defense contractor is working with the government to see if there could be any further opportunities for further inflation relief.

B-21 Raider

The B-21 Raider is clearly a bomber the U.S. Air Force needs, but the question will be how many it can actually afford.

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].