The US Air Force and Northrop Grumman have announced they have commenced the latest round of testing for the sixth-generation B-21 Raider bomber as progress on the multi-billion-dollar program gathers pace.
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This latest round of testing includes engine runs as part of its ground test program at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California, facility, with engine testing described as an “essential milestone” for the program as the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft continues on the path to flight test.
The B-21’s first flight will remain a data-driven event that is monitored by Northrop Grumman and the United States Air Force.
Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider was officially unveiled on 2 December 2022 at the company’s Palmdale, California facility, marking the unveiling for the world’s first sixth-generation combat aircraft, set to replace the US Air Force’s ageing fleet of B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers as the “backbone” of America’s strategic bomber force.
Kathy Warden, chair, chief executive officer and president, Northrop Grumman, said at the launch of the Raider, “The B-21 Raider defines a new era in technology and strengthens America’s role of delivering peace through deterrence.”
The Raider platform will deliver a new era of capability and flexibility through advanced integration of data, sensors, and weapons and will be capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads. The B-21 is designed to 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.
Since the contract award in 2015, Northrop Grumman has assembled a nationwide team to design, test, and build the world’s most advanced strike aircraft. The US-based B-21 team includes more than 8,000 people from Northrop Grumman, industry partners, and the Air Force. This team consists of more than 400 suppliers across 40 US states.
The B-21 Raider bomber fleet will prove pivotal to supporting America’s national 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.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during the launch of the B-21 in late December 2022, “The B-21 Raider is a testament to America’s enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation. 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. Now, strengthening and sustaining US deterrence is at the heart of our National Defense Strategy.”
The B-21 is capable of networking across the battlespace to multiple systems, and into all domains. The Raider is supported by a digital ecosystem throughout its lifecycle, providing through-life maintenance, sustainment and upgrade cost reductions and easing the process allowed the B-21 to quickly evolve through rapid technology upgrades that provide new capabilities to outpace future threats.
Tom Jones, corporate vice-president and president, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, said, “The B-21 exemplifies how Northrop Grumman is leading the industry in digital transformation and digital engineering, ultimately delivering more value to our customers.”
The B-21 Raider is named in honour of the Doolittle Raids of World War II when 80 men, led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle and 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers, set off on a mission that changed the course of World War II.