The Pentagon on Friday unveiled its first new strategic bomber in more than 30 years, a nuclear-capable bat-wing aircraft that will become a central part of the US effort to counter China’s military buildup when it comes into force. service around 2027.
Nearly every aspect of the B-21 Raider is classified, but in a tightly controlled unveiling at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., currently home to Lockheed-Martin’s legendary Skunk Works, the new strategic aircraft was briefly shown to the public. .
“It’s not just another plane,” said Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense. “Fifty years of advances in low-observability technology have gone into this aircraft. Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky.
The ceremony began with an overview of the three bombers still in service: the 70-year-old B-52 Stratofortress, the 49-year-old B-1 Lancer and the 33-year-old B-2 Spirit, a strategic aircraft of which only 20 have been built. .
The B-21, made by Northrop Grumman, looks a lot like the B-2, acknowledged the contractor’s CEO, Kathy Warden. “The way it works internally is extremely advanced compared to the B-2, because the technology has evolved so much in terms of computing capacity that we can now integrate the software from the B-21,” Warden said.
Among the information offered to the public was the estimated cost of the aircraft ($700 million), engine manufacturer (Pratt & Whitney) and payload (conventional and nuclear). Top speed, ceiling, range have all been listed as classified, although the Pentagon has cleared it will be “optionally crewed” and wants 100.
The B-21 is the first part of the $1 billion overhaul of America’s nuclear deterrent – an upgrade that will include new nuclear submarines and land-based missiles – and represents a rapid shift from aircraft and missiles from cruising needed for counterterrorism campaigns in Afghanistan and elsewhere for weapons that can meet China’s military modernization.
In its annual China report released this week, the Pentagon said China is on track to have 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035. Including hypersonic missiles, cyber warfare and space capabilities, the report indicates that China represents “the most important and systemic challenge for the American nation”. security and the free and open international system”.
Six Raiders are in production, and it has been shown to the public as it will soon begin open-view ground testing. The first flight is scheduled for next year.
But some have warned that cost estimates depend on the number of Pentagon purchases and whether tests run smoothly.
“It’s easy to say the B-21 is still on schedule before it actually flies,” Dan Grazier, senior defense policy researcher at the Project on Government Oversight, told Reuters. “It’s only when one of these programs enters the actual testing phase that real problems are discovered.”
The Raider’s largest predecessor, the B-2, was to be a fleet of 132 aircraft when it was unveiled in 1988. But the collapse of the Soviet Union, combined with cost overruns, quintupled the planned order . This left each plane costing $2.2 billion in 2022 dollars. The B-2 was also limited because its windows did not open and it had to be housed in large air-conditioned hangars to keep electricity out of its cockpit. to grill.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Pentagon began allowing Northrop Grumman employees to acknowledge to family and friends that they had worked on the B-21. Northrop Grumman said 400 suppliers were involved in the project and the aircraft was designed with existing parts and technologies.
“The B-21 is designed to be an everyday aircraft,” Tom Jones, head of the company’s aerospace unit, told the outlet.