Days before the first B-21 Raider is set to emerge from Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, Calif., factory, the company revealed new details about the seven-year-old, largely classified bomber program.
Days before the first B-21 Raider is set to emerge from Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, Calif., factory, the company revealed new details about the seven-year-old, largely classified bomber program. As reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine, Northrop Grumman described complementary elements of the B-21 “family of systems”; confirmed a “digital twin” version of the aircraft; and, in a break with previous programs, eliminated the “block upgrade” approach to modernization.
The B-21 will be unveiled Dec. 2 marking the first time the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft will be seen by the public. According to a Northrop Grumman news release, when delivered to the Air Force, the Raider will join the nation’s strategic triad as a visible and flexible deterrent; supporting national security objectives and assuring the nation’s allies and partners.
The B-21 will provide the Air Force with long range, high survivability and mission payload flexibility. The B-21 will penetrate the toughest defenses for precision strikes anywhere in the world.
Here are 10 key facts about Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider.
1. Sixth Generation. The B-21 Raider benefits from more than three decades of strike and stealth technology. It is the next evolution of the Air Force strategic bomber fleet. Developed with the next generation of stealth technology, advanced networking capabilities and an open systems architecture, the B-21 is optimized for the high-end threat environment. It will play a critical role in helping the Air Force meet its most complex missions.
2. Stealth. Northrop Grumman is continuously advancing technology, employing new manufacturing techniques and materials to ensure the B-21 will defeat the anti-access, area-denial systems it will face.
3. Backbone of the Fleet. The B-21 Raider forms the backbone of the future for U.S. air power. The B-21 will deliver a new era of capability and flexibility through advanced integration of data, sensors and weapons. Capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads, the B-21 will be one of the most effective aircraft in the sky, with the ability to use a broad mix of stand-off and direct attack munitions.
4. A Digital Bomber. The B-21 is a digital bomber. Northrop Grumman uses agile software development, advanced manufacturing techniques and digital engineering tools to help mitigate production risk on the B-21 program and enable modern sustainment practices. Six B-21 Raiders are in various stages of final assembly and test at Northrop Grumman’s plant in Palmdale, California.
5. Cloud Technology. Northrop Grumman and the Air Force successfully demonstrated the migration of B-21 ground systems data to a cloud environment. This demonstration included the development, deployment and test of B-21 data, including the B-21 digital twin, that will support B-21 operations and sustainment. This robust cloud-based digital infrastructure will result in a more maintainable and sustainable aircraft with lower-cost infrastructure.
6. Open Architecture. To meet the evolving threat environment, the B-21 has been designed from day one for rapid upgradeability. Unlike earlier generation aircraft, the B-21 will not undergo block upgrades. New technology, capabilities and weapons will be seamlessly incorporated through agile software upgrades and built-in hardware flexibility. This will ensure the B-21 Raider can continuously meet the evolving threat head on for decades to come.
7. A National Team. Since contract award in 2015, Northrop Grumman has assembled a nationwide team to design, test and build the world’s most advanced strike aircraft. The B-21 team includes more than 8,000 people from Northrop Grumman, industry partners and the Air Force. The team consists of more than 400 suppliers across 40 states.
8. Sustainment. Long-term operations and sustainment affordability has been a B-21 program priority from the start. In partnership with the Air Force, our team has made maintainability an equally important requirement to stealth performance to ensure we’re driving more affordable, predictable operations and sustainment outcomes.
9. Global Reach. The B-21 Raider will be the backbone of the U.S. bomber fleet and pivotal to supporting our nation’s strategic deterrence strategy. In addition to its advanced long-range precision strike capabilities that will afford Combatant Commanders the ability to hold any target, anywhere in the world at risk, it has also been designed as the lead component of a larger family of systems that will deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic attack and multi-domain networking capabilities. In a dynamic global security environment, the B-21 will provide the flexibility and deterrence critical to the security of the U.S. and their allies.
10. Raider. The B-21 Raider is named in honor of the Doolittle Raid of World War II when 80 airmen, led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, and 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers set off on a mission that changed the course of World War II. The actions of these 80 volunteers were instrumental in shifting momentum in the Pacific theater. This marked the raid as a catalyst to a multitude of future progress in U.S. air superiority from land or sea. The courageous spirit of the Doolittle Raiders is the inspiration behind the name of the B-21 Raider.
The B-21 Raider is being developed to replace the Air Force’s aging B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit aircraft to form a two-bomber fleet of B-21s and modified B-52s. The B-21 will be a long-range, highly survivable bomber aircraft capable of carrying a variety of mixed conventional munitions or nuclear ordinance.
Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, has been selected as the location to host the Air Force’s first operational B-21 Raiders and the formal training unit in June 2021. The rest of the bombers will be based at Dyess Air Force Base (AFB), Texas and Whiteman AFB, Missouri.
As already reported theUSAF has postponed the B-21 Raider stealth bomber first flight to 2023, pushing back at least six months from the previously expected timetable.
Three years ago, the plan was for the B-2 and B-1 to retire in 2031 and 2032, respectively. But Lt. Gen. David S. Nahom told in may those dates depend on progress with the B-21, and pledged they will not retire until they “shake hands” with the B-21s that replace them.
Since contract award, the Air Force has said the B-21 will be a “available” for combat use in the “mid-2020s.”
Photo credit: Northrop Grumman and U.S. Air Force