Northrop Grumman greenlighted to begin B-21 Raider bomber production

Northrop Grumman greenlighted to begin B-21 Raider bomber production

By Dario Leone
Jan 23 2024
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Northrop Grumman awarded low-rate initial production contract for the B-21 Raider bomber

William LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, disclosed to Air & Space Forces Magazine that Northrop Grumman has been awarded the low-rate initial production contract for the B-21 bomber, close on the heels of the airplane making its first flights.

“This past fall, based on the results of ground and flight tests and the team’s mature plans for manufacturing, I gave the go-ahead to begin producing B-21s at a low rate,” LaPlante said in a statement to Air & Space Forces Magazine.

“Production of the B-21 ‘Raider’ stealth bomber is moving forward,” he added. “One of the key attributes of this program has been designing for production from the start—and at scale—to provide a credible deterrent to adversaries. If you don’t produce and field to warfighters at scale, the capability doesn’t really matter.”

LaPlante said that the contract was signed before the end of 2023 but the Pentagon did not supply the contract amount, the number of aircraft it covers, or the exact date it was awarded.

Northrop Grumman did not have a statement to offer.

The program is being managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office rather than the usual path under the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, which, according to a spokesperson for LaPlante “puts the bomber on a faster track than previous fielding of new aircraft.”

One of the key milestones necessary for Northrop to receive the contract was first flight, which was achieved on Nov. 10.

USAF and Northrop Grumman release New Photos of the B-21; Raider has begun engine runs

Second flight of the first B-21 Raider, nicknamed “Cerberus”

The US Air Force (USAF) acknowledged that the first B-21, nicknamed “Cerberus,” flew again on Jan. 17, but withheld any other details.

The Air Force Test Center and 412th Test Wing’s B-21 Combined Test Force are managing the flight test campaign that is aimed to provide “survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks against the United States, allies, and partners,” a USAF spokesperson added.

According to Air Force Magazine:

‘Pentagon officials say the blackout on the B-21’s progress comes at the direction of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who specifically enjoined the Air Force and Global Strike Command from making a media event out of the B-21’s first flight. Some officials have said Austin is concerned about revealing details from which China could glean information about the airplane, while others have said he simply wants the program to keep a low profile, potentially because of its high cost.

‘Cerberus rolled out of Northrop’s hangars at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif. in December 2022, in a gala event before VIPs and media, but the viewing was tightly controlled to prevent photography of the airplane from any angle but directly ahead. Rolling it out in darkness also helped conceal some of the design details, more of which have only surfaced since the aircraft began outside engine runs and taxi tests starting last fall.

USAF has not said when the B-21 expected to achieve initial operational capability

‘Beyond acknowledging that the aircraft did in fact fly Nov. 10 to Edwards Air Force Base, Cal., the Air Force has declined to provide any information or photographs of that event. The historic flight marked the first time a new Air Force bomber has taken to the skies since the B-2 Spirit made its first hop, also from Palmdale to Edwards, in July 1989.

‘Views of the first flight confirmed the kite-like planform of the aircraft, the general arrangement of its bomb and engine bays, the shaping of its exhausts and the positioning of auxiliary air inlets, as well as the name “Cerberus” stenciled on gear doors.

Video shows Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider first flight

‘The only imagery available of the B-21’s first flight was taken by private photographers camped out at the end of the Plant 42 runway, where Northrop is assembling the B-21.’

The USAF has not said how long the B-21 will be in flight test or when it’s expected to achieve initial operational capability, other the ambiguous “mid-2020s.”

The B-21 Raider

The B-21 Raider will be the backbone of the bomber fleet and will incrementally replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers as sufficient numbers of B-21s are available. The state-of-the-art bomber will provide survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and protect the US, allies, and partners.

As already reported, the Boss of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere said on Mar. 7, 2023 that the USAF will field a minimum of 100 B-21s as part of a long-term plan for fleet of 220 bombers. The B-21 will come in cheaper than its B-2 predecessor, which cost more than $1 billion per airframe.

Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., will be the first B-21 operational base.

The Raider, while state-of-the-art in the 2020s, is designed to be upgraded throughout its life as well to maintain its relevance.

The B-21 is the first new bomber to be introduced since the end of the Cold War. The aircraft is designed with updated stealth qualities and mission flexibility that senior leaders in the Air Force and across the Department of Defense say are necessary to achieve the US goal of achieving integrated deterrence, and if necessary, capabilities required to successfully respond to aggression anywhere in the world at any time.

USAF and Northrop Grumman release New Photos of the B-21; Raider has begun engine runs

Photo credit: Matt Hartman Twitter profile, U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman

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Dario Leone

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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