The US Air Force (USAF) has postponed the B-21 Raider stealth bomber first flight to 2023, pushing back at least six months from the previously expected timetable, Air Force Magazine reports.
A service spokeswoman said on May 20 that “Recently, the Air Force released a new estimate for first flight; projected for next year, 2023.” The service said it’s trying to be as “transparent” as it can be about the project, and “this estimate reflects the current status of the program.” The spokeswoman did not attribute the delay to any particular cause. Many other high-profile programs, such as Boeing’s T-7A trainer, have recently reported delays due to supply chain issues and labor shortages.
She added that the B-21 “remains within its acquisition program baseline for cost, schedule, and performance established at Milestone B award, which was based on an independent government estimate for the program.”
Rapid Capabilities Office director Randall Walden predicted in early 2021 that the B-21 would fly in “mid-2022,” and in March said that the first flyable example was largely assembled and undergoing outdoor calibration tests. These, he said, would be followed by taxi tests and first flight, but he did not give a timetable.
Speaking at the 2022 Nuclear Deterrence Summit in February, Maj. Gen. Jason R. Armagost, the director of strategic plans, programs, and requirements at Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), said that the B-21 Raider continues to be a “model” program for the Air Force, with six of the new bombers currently in production and some of its software already validated through digital testing.
Air Force and industry sources say the service likely will still roll out the first B-21 in calendar 2022, because the aircraft will have to venture outside Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, Calif., plant for engine and other testing.
The spokeswoman said that “the B-21 program continues to ensure the first flight test aircraft is a high-quality build and production-representative, in order to drive an efficient flight test campaign and rapidly field this critical combat capability.” The first flight will be “data- and event-driven, not a date-driven event,” meaning the aircraft will fly only when the Air Force believes it’s ready to do so.
Walden said in March that the program had not been significantly affected by supply chain issues, raising the possibility that an anomaly has been discovered in test.
Lt. Gen. David S. Nahom told the House Armed Services Committee May 19 the service is eyeing as many as 145 B-21s.
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.
The B-21 Raider will be capable of penetrating the toughest defenses to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world, playing a vital role in America’s national security.
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.
Three years ago, the plan was for the B-2 and B-1 to retire in 2031 and 2032, respectively. But Nahom told the HASC 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: U.S. Air Force
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