As the United States Navy works to address looming concerns about the capability gap created by Chinese and Russian hypersonic capable anti-ship missiles, the solution to their problem may actually come from the U.S. Air Force.
Advanced anti-ship missiles capable of traveling at speeds in excess of Mach 5 (the “hypersonic” barrier) are too fast for America’s traditional defense apparatus to track and intercept consistently. With ranges that can exceed a thousand miles, these indefensible missiles create an area denial bubble that America’s fleet of aircraft carriers can’t penetrate without risking being sunk — and with only about 550 miles of operational range out of carrier based aircraft, that means the U.S.’s fleet Super Hornets and F-35s based on those carriers would find themselves unable to join the fight.
The Navy and Marine Corps are already working on a variety of projects that aim to offset this capability gap — but the best chance to level this new playing field is quietly being developed behind the closed doors of Northrop Grumman, where the B-21 Raider is beginning to take shape.
Little information has been released thus far about the forthcoming stealth bomber that is slated to replace both America’s legendary B-2 Spirit as well as the nation’s only super-sonic heavy payload bomber, the B-1B Lancer. Unlike other advanced aircraft to be developed in recent years like the F-22 and F-35, the B-21 program has progressed with little more leaking out to the media that some artist’s renderings of what the finished bomber will look like, and some broad strokes statements made by Defense officials as they tip toe around providing any concrete data.