The United States Air Force has five B-21 Raider bombers currently in various states of production at manufacturer Northrop Grumman’s plant in California, a US Air Force official has confirmed.
The above image shows a radar-absorbing stealth coating being applied to a B-2 bomber at Northrop Grumman’s Antelope Valley Manufacturing Center
The secretary of the air force, Frank Kendall, confirmed the news of the service’s new stealth bomber at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference.
The five aircraft, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, will be delivered as part of the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the bomber programme, the period before full-rate production begins.
“As I speak there are now five test aircraft being manufactured on the B-21 production line at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California,” Kendall said. “You will never hear me make optimistic predictions about programs. All programs have risk and the same is true of the B-21, but at this point at least, the program is making good progress to real fielded capability.”
Speaking in June, US Air Force acting acquisition executive, Darlene Costello, revealed the first two units are ready to start testing.
When asked about how complete the stealth bomber’s design is, Costello said: “We have the design. There are two test aircraft built and it will take a while to get through all the testing. And therefore, there could be some changes as a result of the testing.”
It was later clarified that the two B-21s are still in production and maybe altered following testing.
It is known that the US Air Force hopes to have about 150 new “flying” stealth bombers. The program is also said to have a budget relatively close to the original estimate.
At one point, however, six B-2 bombers were built, which is more than the B-21 Raider. The US Air Force then hoped to have more than 100 bombers of this type but was limited to a small squadron of 21.
Little is known about the development of the B-21 Raider in general, and the exact status of each on the assembly line is unknown. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the aircraft will be the same as speculated.
Meanwhile, the countdown timer to the first flight of the B-21 Raider is on. If the schedule continues, the first one will take off in the first half of 2022 and is expected to enter service between 2026 and 2027.
The vast complex at Edwards Air Force Base in California awaits the start of a test program, which will be operated by the newly created Joint Test Unit.
The new bombers will be key to the Pentagon’s nuclear strike force modernization program, which is “a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Air Force,” officials said.
The B-21 Raider will be more than just a bomber, it is a stealthy and multi-role complex designed for attack, reconnaissance and surveillance, as well as use on other platforms as part of the mission.
It will also use multiple time-tested systems to reduce risk. Overall, the B-21 Raider will be smaller but much more versatile and adaptable than its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit.
“In other words, the B-21 must be an incredibly cool weapon system. Of course, the verdict on how it will all play out remains a mystery, but so far all indications seem to be in place.
Thus, up to the present time, the US program to build a future bomber has far exceeded the Chinese project H-20 or the Russian-made Poslanhik.
With a fleet of B-21 Raider stealth bombers ready for action, the US Air Force will maintain its leading edge in the years to come.