Military Aviation

B-21 First Flight slated for December 2021, more B-52s to Come Out of Boneyard

USAF Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen “Seve” Wilson said he has an application on his phone “counting down the days … and don’t hold me to it, but it’s something like 863 days to B-21 first flight.”

One or two more B-52s will come out from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the first flight of the new B-21 is slated to be in December, 2021.

This was disclosed by USAF Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen “Seve” Wilson on Jul. 24 at an AFA Mitchell Institute event in Washington, D.C..

Speaking on deterrence and the need to modernize the nuclear command, control and communications network, Wilson said he was at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Melbourne, Fla. in the last few weeks, “looking at the B-21,” and said the company is “moving out on that pretty fast.” Wilson said he has an application on his phone “counting down the days … and don’t hold me to it, but it’s something like 863 days to first flight.”

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As explained by Air Force Magazine, the Air Force has said from the beginning that the first B-21 would be a “useable asset” but has also said it doesn’t expect an initial operating capability with the B-21  before the “mid 2020s.”

Wilson added that Northrop Grumman CEO “Kathy Warden and her team are focused on software integration and making sure … we’ll have the software ready for the plane when it’s delivered.”

The Air Force is “focused on the development of the new bomber as well as modernizing the B-52,” with new engines and radar, “and we’re exploring the force structure between the B-1 the B-2 and the B-52,” Wilson noted. “The general consensus is, we don’t have enough long range strike capacity, and that came out in ‘The Air Force We Need,’ ” study the service published last September.

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“We continue to look at what that force will be for the future across the bomber force, what mix it will be.” He maintained the service needs “at least 100” B-21s.”

Air Force Magazine asked Wilson why the service has not advanced the planned number of B-21s, given the acknowledged shortfall in bomber capacity. The Air Force said in “The Force We Need” that it requires another seven bomber squadrons. Increasing the planned buy would also have the effect of reducing the unit cost, by amortizing development over a larger number of units.

“That’s exactly what we’re looking at,” Wilson replied, as well as “what the right balance” will be as B-21s come online. The service has yet to decide if it will extend the B-1 and B-2 bombers—slated to retire in the early 2030s—to increase the bomber fleet or simply go for an all B-21 and B-52 fleet. “But we can’t have four bombers” Wilson said.

Wilson also said that while the Air Force “isn’t going to get any new B-52s,” AFGSC might still take “one or two more out of the boneyard.

Top image: Illustration by Mike Tsukamoto via Air Force Magazine

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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