Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider
|U.S. Air Force artist rendering of B-21 Raider|
|Role||Stealth strategic bomber|
|National origin||United States|
|Primary user||United States Air Force|
The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is an American heavy bomber under development for the United States Air Force (USAF) by Northrop Grumman. As part of the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program, it is to be an advanced, very long-range, large, heavy-payload stealth intercontinental strategic bomber for the USAF, able to deliver conventional and thermonuclear weapons.
As of 2021[update], the bomber was expected to enter service by 2026–27. It is to complement existing Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber fleets in U.S. service, and eventually replace these bombers.
A request for proposal (RFP) to develop the aircraft was issued in July 2014. The Air Force's initial plans were to acquire 80 to 100 LRS-B aircraft at a cost of $550 million per unit (2010) and envisions some 175 to 200 to be in service eventually. A development contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman in October 2015. A media report states that the bomber could also be used as an intelligence gatherer, battle manager, and interceptor aircraft.
At the 2016 Air Warfare Symposium, the LRS-B was formally designated "B-21", signifying the aircraft as the 21st century's first bomber. Then-Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James stated that the B-21 is a fifth-generation global precision attack platform that will give the United States networked sensor-shoot capability, thus holding targets at risk. The head of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command expects that 100 B-21 bombers will be the minimum ordered and envisions some 175–200 bombers in service. Two internal USAF studies suggest that Air Force could increase its B-21 purchase from between 80 and 100 to as many as 145 aircraft. Initial operating capability (IOC) is expected to be reached by 2030.
In March 2016, the USAF announced seven tier-one suppliers for the program: Pratt & Whitney; BAE Systems of Nashua, New Hampshire; Spirit AeroSystems of Wichita, Kansas; Orbital ATK of Clearfield, Utah, and Dayton, Ohio; Rockwell Collins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; GKN Aerospace of St Louis, Missouri; and Janicki Industries of Sedro-Woolley, Washington.
The F-35 program manager Chris Bogdan stated that the commonality of the B-21's engines should reduce the cost of the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. The B-21 will be designed from the start with an open systems architecture.
In July 2016, the U.S. Air Force stated they would not release the estimated cost for the B-21 contract with Northrop Grumman, arguing that releasing the cost would reveal too much information about the classified project to potential adversaries. The United States Senate Committee on Armed Services also voted to not publicly release the program's cost, restricting the information to congressional defense committees over the objections of a bipartisan group of legislators led by the committee's chairman, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Senator McCain's proposed revisions to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2017 would have reduced authorization for the B-21 program by $302 million "due to a lower than expected contract award value", while requiring "strict… program baseline and cost control thresholds", "quarterly program performance reports", and "disclosure of the engineering and manufacturing development total contract award value".
On 19 September 2016, the B-21 was formally named "Raider" in honor of the Doolittle Raiders. The then-remaining survivor of the Doolittle Raiders, retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, was present at the naming ceremony at the Air Force Association conference.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on 25 October 2016 that sustained the Air Force's decision to award the LRS-B contract to Northrop Grumman. The GAO revealed that cost was the deciding factor in selecting Northrop Grumman over the Boeing and Lockheed Martin team.
The Air Force is planning to acquire a new long-range fighter, known as "Penetrating Counter-Air", that would accompany the B-21 Raider deep into enemy territory. The new fighter, of which few details are known, would help the bomber survive enemy air defenses.
The program completed its critical design review (CDR) in December 2018.
Final assembly of the B-21 is expected to take place at United States Air Force Plant 42 near Palmdale, California, at the same facility used during the 1980s and 1990s for Northrop B-2 production. Northrop Grumman was awarded a $35.8 million contract modification for a large coatings facility set to be completed in 2019. Journalists touring Plant 42 reported, "while Northrop would not specify that they planned to produce the B-21 at that location, officials were all but winking and nodding at the subject." Due to the classified nature of the program topic, very little information has been released; by the summer of 2019 it was reported that construction of the first unit was underway. In early 2021, several media outlets reported that as completion of the first B-21 approached, construction on the second unit had begun.
Maintenance and sustainment of the B-21 will be coordinated by Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, while Edwards Air Force Base, California, will lead testing and evaluation. The B-21 is expected to operate out of bases currently servicing heavy bombers, such as Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, and Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. On 27 March 2019, Ellsworth was selected as the Air Force Base to host the first operational B-21 Raider bomber unit and the first formal training unit.
On 31 January 2020, new B-21 renderings were released by the USAF and Northrop Grumman, showcasing the distinctive flush and blended inlets and the two-wheel main landing gear design, potentially indicating the smaller size and weight of the aircraft in comparison to the B-2.
At a Congressional hearing on 8 June 2021, Darlene Costello, the Air Force's acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, revealed that the first two B-21s were being manufactured on the production line at Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.
In May 2022, the Air Force announced that they expected first flight of the B-21 to take place in 2023.
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
- Gulick, Ed (12 July 2014). "AF moves forward with future bomber". U.S. Air Force.
- Petersen, Melody (7 February 2015). "New stealth bomber contract likely to be boon for Antelope Valley". Los Angeles Times.
- Osborn, Kris (28 March 2017). "The Northrop Grumman B-21 Stealth Bomber: Simply Unstoppable?". The National Interest.
- D'Urso, Stefano (17 January 2021). "Second B-21 Raider Under Construction As The First One Approaches Roll-Out In Early 2022". The Aviationist. Retrieved 5 February 2021.
- Gertler, Jeremiah (7 June 2017). "Air Force B-21 Raider Long-Range Strike Bomber". Congressional Research Service (CRS). Retrieved 23 January 2018.
B-21s would initially replace aging B-1 and B-52 bombers, and would possibly replace B-2s in the future.[permanent dead link]
- Gertler, Jeremiah (17 June 2017). "Air Force B-21 Raider Long-Range Strike Bomber" (PDF). Congressional Research Service – via FAS.
- "New B-21 bomber named 'Raider': U.S. Air Force". Reuters. 19 September 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
The stealth B-21, the first new U.S. bomber of the 21st century, is part of an effort to replace the Air Force's aging B-52 and B-1 bombers, though it is not slated to be ready for combat use before 2025.
- "US Air Force requests $156.3 billion in FY19, plans to retire B-1, B-2 fleets". Defense News. 12 February 2018. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
- Mizokami, Kyle. "The B-21 Bomber Is the Coolest Plane We've Never Seen". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 5 February 2020.
- "USAF Global Strike chief seeks beefed-up bomber force". Flight Global. 26 February 2016.
- Hillis, Amy (6 November 2015). "LRSB: (Yet Another) Tale of Two Protests". Aviation Week. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
- Weisgerber, Marcus (13 September 2015). "Here Are A Few Things the New Air Force Bomber Will Do Besides Drop Bombs". Defense One. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
- "Air Force reveals B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber". USAF. 26 February 2016. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
- "USAF reveals Northrop's B-21 long-range strike bomber". Flight global. 26 February 2016. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
- Clark, Colin (6 February 2017). "Coatings Plant Offers Hints on B-21 Production".
- "USAF Global Strike chief seeks beefed-up bomber force". Flight global. 26 February 2016. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
- "US Air Force could substantially increase B-21 buy – Jane's 360". janes.com.
- Machi, Vivienne (21 June 2016). "Air Force Official: Releasing Full B-21 Contract Value 'Too Insightful' For Enemies". National defense magazine. National Defense Industrial Association. Retrieved 21 June 2016.[permanent dead link]
- "USAF names seven top-tier Northrop B-21 suppliers". Flight global. 8 March 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- "Spirit's work on new B-21 Bomber will require new jobs". The Wichita Eagle. 2 June 2017. Archived from the original on 3 June 2017. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
- Shalal, Andrea (10 March 2016). "U.S. F-35 chief expects savings after Pratt's B-21 bomber win". Reuters. Thomson Reuters. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
- Shalal, Andrea (23 March 2016). "Pentagon to move ahead with $3 billion F-35 upgrade program in 2018". Reuters. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
- Drew, James (20 April 2016). "USAF basing revised bomber count on 'minimum' of 100 B-21s". Flight Global. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
- Cohen, Zachary (5 July 2016). "New stealth bomber's cost is under the radar". CNN. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
- "Proposed National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2017" (PDF). U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
- "The B-21 has a name: Raider". USAF. 19 September 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
- "Last surviving Doolittle Raider rises to name Northrop B-21". Flight Global, 20 September 2016.
- "Game Over: GAO Protest Reveals Cost Was Deciding Factor in B-21 Contest". Defense News. 25 October 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
- B-412441 report. 16 February 2016.
- "The Air Force Wants a New Fighter to Accompany Its New Stealth Bomber". 20 September 2016.
- Clark, Colin (19 September 2016). "B-21 Bomber Estimate by CAPE: $511M a Copy". Breaking defense.
- Farley, Robert. "A Raider and His 'Little Buddy': Which Fighter Will Accompany the USAF's B-21?". The Diplomat.
- Pappalardo, Joe (6 December 2018). "New B-21 Secret Bomber Passes Crucial Milestone". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
- "New Northrop facility deal likely meant for B-21 stealth coating". Defense News. 1 February 2017.
- US Air force is building first B-21 stealth bomber. The Diplomat 2019-7.
- D'Urso, Stefano. "The Air Force's 2nd B-21 bomber is under construction as the first one starts 'to look like a bomber'". Business Insider.
- "Second B-21 Under Construction as Bomber Moves Toward First Flight". 15 January 2021.
- "Air Force announces bases to support B-21 Raider mission". Tinker AFB. Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs. 16 November 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
The Air Force has selected Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, to coordinate maintenance and sustainment of the B-21 Raider and Edwards AFB, California, to lead testing and evaluation of the next generation long-range strike bomber.
- "Air Force selects locations for B-21 aircraft". Ellsworth Air Force Base. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
- "Air Force announces Ellsworth AFB as first B-21 base". Air force. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
- Rogoway, Tyler (31 January 2020). "Here's Our Analysis of The Air Force's New B-21 Stealth Bomber Renderings". The drive.
- Tirpak, John (31 January 2020). "B-21 Images Show New Details of Secret Bomber". Air force magazine.
- "Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces Hearing: "Air Force Projection Forces Aviation Programs and Capabilities Related to the 2022 President's Budget Request"". House Armed Services Committee. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 10 June 2021.
- Costello, Darlene; Nahom, David S.; Hinote, S. Clinton. "Hearing date/time: June 8 2021, 1100 Presentation to The House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces" (PDF). House of Representatives. Retrieved 6 March 2022.
- Newdick, Thomas (3 March 2022). "First B-21 Raider Is Now Undergoing Calibration Tests As Official Rollout Approaches". The Drive. Retrieved 6 March 2022.
- Hadley, Greg (9 February 2022). "Six B-21s in Production, Fuel Control Software Already Tested". Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 10 February 2022.
- Tirpak, John A. (3 March 2022). "First B-21 Moves to New Hangar for Loads Calibration". Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 6 March 2022.
- Joseph Trevithick (8 March 2022). "Stealth Bomber Drone To Complement The B-21 Raider Could Be Pushed Into Development Soon". War Zone Retrieved 10 March 2022.
- Garrett Reim (10 December 2021). "US Air Force ‘commits’ to fielding loyal wingman UAVs". Flight Global. Retrieved 10 March 2022.
- Tirpak, John A. (20 May 2022). "B-21 Raider First Flight Now Postponed to 2023". Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 27 May 2022.