Northrop Grumman, the aviation defense company behind some of the United States’ most advanced aircraft, announced that it would unveil the B-21 Raider bomber in early December. The stealth bomber, outwardly reminiscent of the B-2 Spirit bomber, is expected to be the stealthiest aircraft ever built and will be an incredibly important asset for American nuclear deterrence.
“The B-21 is the most advanced military aircraft ever built and is a product of pioneering innovation and technological excellence,” Doug Young, sector vice president and general manager at Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, said in the company statement.
“The Raider showcases the dedication and skills of the thousands of people working every day to deliver this aircraft,” Young added.
“Northrop Grumman is proud of our partnership with the U.S. Air Force as we deliver the B-21 Raider, a sixth-generation aircraft optimized for operations in highly contested environments,” Tom Jones, corporate vice president and president at Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, said in the announcement.
Though both the B-21 Raider and the B-2 Spirit are flying wing-type aircraft—lacking a traditional tail assembly—the newer Raider bomber is expected to be a much stealthier aircraft. Unlike the B-2, the Raider will not require specialized climate-controlled hangars to maintain its stealth coating. Officials have said previously that the B-21’s stealth capabilities will be two generations beyond the B-2’s.
Ultimate procurement numbers are unknown, but the Air Force may ultimately choose to purchase 80 to 100 B-21s, and potentially as many as 200.
Northrop Grumman explained that “six B-21 test aircraft are in various stages of final assembly in Palmdale, California. Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force confirmed in May that the B-21 first flight is projected for 2023. The actual timing of first flight will be based on ground test outcomes.”
The company added that “the unveiling will take place at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale site, during an invitation-only event.” Though Northrop has published several computer-generated images of the strategic bomber and a commercial that showcased a cloth-draped B-21 fuselage, photographs of the bomber have not been released.
Given the gravity of the Raider program, most aspects of the new bomber have been shrouded in secrecy, including financial information related to the project. However, available metrics and evidence indicate that the program is moving along according to budget and at a relatively quick pace, considering the B-21’s advanced nature.
Though Northrop will reveal the B-21 soon, the stealth aircraft is not expected to make its first flight until next year, and the bomber is slated to enter service with the U.S. Air Force in the mid-2020s.
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: Flickr/U.S. Air Force.