Northrop Grumman formally unveiled the B-21 Raider over the weekend, though gave little new information on its projected capabilities.
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This article has been re-published from Defence Connect’s sister brand, Australian Aviation.
The dramatic ceremony at Palmdale, California, which you can watch here, represented the first time the “sixth-generation” aircraft had been seen outside artists’ impressions and the first unveiling of a new US bomber in more than 30 years.
.@SecDef: [The @USAirForce’s B-21 Raider is] proof of the Department’s long-term commitment to building advanced capabilities that will fortify America’s ability to deter aggression, today and into the future. pic.twitter.com/93ahmw90Ar— Department of Defense ?? (@DeptofDefense) December 3, 2022
The B-21 is the “sequel” to the iconic, UFO-like B-2 Spirit and is designed to strike deep behind enemy lines with its 9,500-kilometre range, 15-tonne payload and advanced stealth capabilities. “The world has never seen technology like what Northrop Grumman developed for our B-21,” said the prime.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hailed the aircraft as being so advanced that even the most sophisticated air defence systems would struggle to detect it in the sky.
“It is a testament to America’s enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation,” he said. “And it’s proof of the Department’s long-term commitment to building advanced capabilities that will fortify America’s ability to deter aggression, today and into the future.
“This isn’t just another aeroplane. It’s not just another acquisition. It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love. It’s a testament to our strategy of deterrence — with the capabilities to back it up, every time and everywhere.”
At the ceremony, it was also confirmed that Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota would be the aircraft’s home, with each model now expected to cost US$695 million.
The US will purchase at least 100, with the first public test flight taking place next year.
“The specific B-21 unveiled on 2 December is one of six under production,” said the US Air Force. “Each is considered a test aircraft, but each is being built on the same production line, using the same tools, processes, and technicians who will build production aircraft. This approach has enabled production engineers and technicians to capture lessons learned and apply them directly to follow-on aircraft, driving home a focus on repeatability, producibility and quality.”
Northrop was first awarded the contract for the B-21 in 2015, and the development team includes more than 8,000 people from the prime, its industry partners and the US Air Force.
The “Raider” was named in honour of the “courageous spirit” of airmen who took part in the Doolittle Raid on Japan during World War II. The attack was seen as a turning point of the war and boosted US morale at home in 1942.
In September, it was reported that shadow defence minister Andrew Hastie urged the federal government to explore the potential of purchasing the in-development B-21 Raider.
He referenced remarks from Admiral Phil Davidson, the former Commander of Indo-Pacific Command, who last year warned China could take military action against Taiwan over the next six years — a timeline referred to as the “Davidson window”.
“We’re now five years [away] if we go with his timeline [and] we’re not going to see a nuclear submarine in the next five years,” shadow minister Hastie said.
“The question is, what are we going to do to hedge against that happening in the next five years, which is [why] we need to start talking about strike capabilities like missiles and potentially B-21s out of the United States.
“We need to be able to hold an adversary at risk, at distance, out passed the archipelago to our north, and in order to do that, you need strike capabilities — missiles, aircraft and long-term, nuclear submarines.”