Military Aviation


“We are still in the early days of the B-21, but the Air Force has revealed more about the new bomber program than what was disclosed at similar stages for its predecessors, the B-1 and B-2″ former U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James

As reported by Bloomberg the Pentagon’s Inspector General Office is to conduct an evaluation and submit a report to Congress on whether the U.S. Air Force (USAF) has placed too much secrecy on the B-21 program.

The Defense Department’s watchdog office in fact was ordered “to conduct an evaluation and submit a report” to Congress within six months under a provision of the $1.17 trillion government-wide spending bill for the current fiscal year enacted this month. The provision was little-noticed because it refers obliquely to directions in a Senate appropriations measure passed last year.

Noteworthy this review is looking “across the spectrum” at what the Air Force is disclosing about the B-21 Raider with an intent to “balance program classification with the transparency that we’re shooting for,” said Air Force Lieutenant General Arnold Bunch, the service’s top uniformed acquisition official.

“We believe we’ve got it balanced properly,” Bunch said, but the inspector general is “analyzing how much we are releasing or are not releasing, to give us recommendations on how to move forward.”

Currently the USAF has released a notional sketch of the stealth aircraft, cost goals per plane and the names of top subcontractors. Moreover as we have explained in a previous post it also eventually approved the release in Oct. of a redacted version of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) decision from Feb. 2016 rejecting a Boeing protest of the contract award to Northrop.

According to Bloomberg, the Senate Appropriations panel directed the inspector general to conduct a review “of the security strategy, controls and program protection plan.” An aide to committee Chairman Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, said he asked for the review to make sure there’s the right balance between classified and unclassified information.

The aide said that although the committee didn’t specify the format for the inspector general’s report, it could be unclassified with a classified annex.

The Air Force’s desire for secrecy was buttressed in May 2016 when seven Republicans and all Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee joined in a 19-7 vote behind closed doors against making the contract value public, including the fees Northrop could earn.

Then-Air Force Secretary Deborah James said last year that disclosing “the contract value – per the experts on these matters,” such as engineers, “could be a contributing factor” to an adversary deriving information such as “size, weight, power and other factors.”

“We are still in the early days of the B-21,” but the Air Force has revealed more about the new bomber program than what was disclosed at similar stages for its predecessors, the B-1 and B-2, she said.

Due to be deployed in the mid-2020s, the B-21 Raider will join the small fleet of B-2 Spirits and will replace B-1B Lancer and B-52H Stratofortress bomber aircraft. The aircraft is aimed to provide USAF the flexibility and capability to launch from the continental U.S. and deliver air strikes on anywhere in the world.

Once ready, the first prototype of the B-21 will be the first manned aircraft built by Northrop Grumman since the company B-2 bomber which was developed in the 1980s.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith and Senior Airman Joshua Smoot / U.S. Air Force

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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