Pentagon Debuts Stealth Bombe 12/02 06:03
WASHINGTON (AP) -- America's newest nuclear stealth bomber is making its
public debut after years of secret development and as part of the Pentagon's
answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China.
The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30
years. Almost every aspect of the program is classified. Ahead of its unveiling
Friday at an Air Force facility in Palmdale, California, only artists'
renderings of the warplane have been released. Those few images reveal that the
Raider resembles the black nuclear stealth bomber it will eventually replace,
the B-2 Spirit.
The bomber is part of the Pentagon's efforts to modernize all three legs of
its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and
submarine-launched warheads, as it shifts from the counterterrorism campaigns
of recent decades to meet China's rapid military modernization.
China is on track to have 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035, and its gains in
hypersonics, cyber warfare, space capabilities and other areas present "the
most consequential and systemic challenge to U.S. national security and the
free and open international system," the Pentagon said this week in its annual
"We needed a new bomber for the 21st Century that would allow us to take on
much more complicated threats, like the threats that we fear we would one day
face from China, Russia, " said Deborah Lee James, the Air Force secretary when
the Raider contract was announced in 2015. "The B-21 is more survivable and can
take on these much more difficult threats."
While the Raider may resemble the B-2, once you get inside, the similarities
stop, said Kathy Warden, chief executive of Northrop Grumman Corp., which is
building the Raider.
"The way it operates internally is extremely advanced compared to the B-2,
because the technology has evolved so much in terms of the computing capability
that we can now embed in the software of the B-21," Warden said.
Other changes likely include advanced materials used in coatings to make the
bomber harder to detect, new ways to control electronic emissions, so the
bomber could spoof adversary radars and disguise itself as another object, and
use of new propulsion technologies, several defense analysts said.
In a fact sheet, Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia, said it
is using "new manufacturing techniques and materials to ensure the B-21 will
defeat the anti-access, area-denial systems it will face."
Warden could not discuss specifics of those technologies but said the bomber
will be more stealthy.
"When we talk about low observability, it is incredibly low observability,"
Warden said. "You'll hear it, but you really won't see it."
Six B-21 Raiders are in production; The Air Force plans to build 100 that
can deploy either nuclear weapons or conventional bombs and can be used with or
without a human crew. Both the Air Force and Northrop also point to the
Raider's relatively quick development: The bomber went from contract award to
debut in seven years. Other new fighter and ship programs have taken decades.
The cost of the bombers is unknown. The Air Force previously put the price
for a buy of 100 aircraft at an average cost of $550 million each in 2010
dollars -- roughly $753 million today -- but it's unclear how much the Air
Force is actually spending.
The fact that the price is not public troubles government watchdogs.
"It might be a big challenge for us to do our normal analysis of a major
program like this," said Dan Grazier, a senior defense policy fellow at the
Project on Government Oversight. "It's easy to say that the B-21 is still on
schedule before it actually flies. Because it's only when one of these programs
goes into the actual testing phase when real problems are discovered. And so
that's the point when schedules really start to slip and costs really start to
The Raider will not make its first flight until 2023. However, using
advanced computing, Warden said, Northrop Grumman has been testing the Raider's
performance using a digital twin, a virtual replica of the one being unveiled.
The B-2 was also envisioned to be a fleet of more than 100 aircraft, but the
Air Force ultimately built only 21 of them, due to cost overruns and a changed
security environment after the Soviet Union fell.
Fewer than that are ready to fly on any given day due to the significant
maintenance needs of the aging bomber, said Todd Harrison, an aerospace
specialist and managing director at Metrea Strategic Insights.
The B-21 Raider, which takes its name from the 1942 Doolittle Raid over
Tokyo, will be slightly smaller than the B-2 to increase its range, Warden said.
In October 2001, B-2 pilots set a record when they flew 44 hours straight to
drop the first bombs in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the B-2
often does long round-trip missions, because there are few hangars globally
that can accommodate its wingspan. That limits where B-2s can land for needed
post-flight maintenance. And the hangars needed to be air-conditioned ---
because the Spirit's windows don't open, hotter climates can cook cockpit
The new Raider will also get new hangars, to accommodate the size and
complexity of the bomber, Warden said.
A last noticeable difference is in the debut itself. While both will have
debuted in the Air Force's Palmdale Plant 42, in 1989 the B-2 was rolled
outdoors amid much public fanfare.
Given advances in surveillance satellites and cameras, the Raider will debut
very much under wraps and will be viewed inside a hangar. Invited guests
including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will witness the hangar doors open to
reveal the bomber for its public introduction, then the doors will close again.
"The magic of the platform," Warden said, "is what you don't see."