The B-21 Raider, the future of USA long-range strike

By Willie Bodenstein

"When it comes to delivering America's resolve, the B-21 Raider will be standing by, silent and ready. We are providing America's war fighters with an advanced aircraft offering a combination of range, payload, and survivability. The B-21 Raider will be capable of penetrating the toughest defences to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world. The B-21 is the future of deterrence." Northprop Grumman.

The B-21 Raider is a heavy STEALTH bomber under development for the United States Air Force (USAF) by the Northrop Grumman Corporation and is part of the USAF's Long Range Strike Bomber program (LRS-B).

A request for proposal (RFP) to develop the aircraft, an advanced, very long-range, large, heavy-payload stealth intercontinental strategic bomber for the USAF, able to deliver conventional and thermonuclear weapons, was issued in July 2014. A development contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman in October 2015. On 19 September 2016, the B-21 was formally named "Raider" in honour of the Doolittle Raiders.

The USAF's plans are to acquire 80 to 100 LRS-B aircraft at a cost of $550 million per unit (2010) and envisions some 175 to 200 to be in service by 2026-2027. Initially the Raider will complement the existing Rockwell B-1 Lancers, Northrop Grumman's B-2 Spirit and Boeing's B-52 Stratofortress bomber fleets, eventually replacing these bombers.

Final assembly of the B-21 is expected to take place at United States Air Force Plant 42 near Palmdale, California, at the same facility used during the 1980s and 1990s for Northrop B-2 production.

Due to the classified nature of the program, very little information has been released. However, on 31 January 2020, new B-21 renderings were released by the USAF and Northrop Grumman, showcasing the distinctive flush and blended inlets and the two-wheel main landing gear design, potentially indicating the smaller size and weight of the aircraft in comparison to the B-2 Spirit. Rumours has it that construction of the first unit has commenced sometime in 2019 and that the bomber could also be used as an intelligence gatherer, battle manager and interceptor aircraft.

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