The B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber Will Be Worth Every Penny

Artist rendering of a B-21 Raider concept in a hangar at Dyess, Air Force Base, Texas, one of the future bases to host the new airframe. (Courtesy photo by Northrop Grumman)

Mark Your Calendar – B-21 Unveiling Coming Soon and It Will It Be Worth It: The Christmas holiday season officially kicks off on Thanksgiving Day, and in New York City, things really pick up on the following Tuesday with the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. However, it won’t be the only big reveal that week. The wraps will also come off of Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider, the new strategic bomber being developed for the United States Air Force as part of the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program.

B-21 Coming Soon

“On Dec. 2, we’ll unveil the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft. Stay tuned for your first look at the B-21 Raider,” Northrop Grumman announced via social media with an 11-second long clip to hype up the event (see above).

This is the first public unveiling of a new U.S. Air Force bomber in 34 years since the Northrop B-2 Spirit made its public debut back in November 1988. While it will be quite momentous for the program, the Raider is still years away from entering service – and has yet to make its first flight.

B-21 Looking Like a Success

The B-21 had successfully completed its initial ground tests in May, which reportedly included stress tests to verify the structure of the future very long-range, large, heavy-payload stealth intercontinental strategic bomber. Additional tests have included its subsystems as well as its coating and paint.

All of that is in advance of the maiden flight, which is expected to take place next year, and the first prototype is expected to fly from Northrop Grumman’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, California to nearby Edwards Air Force Base to begin formal flight testing. Initial operating capability (IOC) is expected to be reached by 2030.

Costly Aircraft

Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract to produce the next-generation bomber in 2015, and the company quickly assembled a nationwide team to design, test, and build the B-21. It was developed via the company’s pioneering digital engineering practices and advanced manufacturing techniques together.

“The B-21 is the most advanced military aircraft ever built and is a product of pioneering innovation and technological excellence,” Doug Young, sector vice president and general manager at Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems told reporters last month. “The Raider showcases the dedication and skills of the thousands of people working every day to deliver this aircraft.”

Six B-21 test aircraft are currently in various stages of final assembly in Palmdale, California. The Air Force Global Strike Command has announced that it would acquire at minimum 100 of the aircraft, while that number could increase to as many as an eventual 200.

In 2010, it was estimated that the initial order of aircraft could cost as much as $550 million per unit. This past June, Bloomberg estimated the cost to develop, purchase and then operate 100 aircraft over 30 years would be at least $203 billion. That would include $25.1 billion for development, $64 billion for production, and $114 billion for maintenance and operation.

Artist image of B-2 Spirit. The B-21 Raider will look similar.
Northrop Grumman
B-2 Bomber. Image Credit. U.S. Air Force.

As previously reported, the B-21 Raider is running on schedule and under budget. What is helping control costs is the fact that The B-21 test aircraft that are currently being manufactured under the Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract with Northrop Grumman is utilizing the same production line, with the same tooling, processes, and technicians that will eventually build the production aircraft.

In April, the Department of the Air Force awarded $108 million to Northrop Grumman for advance procurement to support the B-21 Raider program. Those advance Advance procurement funds will directly support the acquisition of long lead items necessary to build the first lot of production B-21 aircraft.