Despite the F-35’s knack for grabbing headlines, an even more expensive aircraft has been steaming toward production to little fanfare: the B-21 Raider. Expected to serve as America’s go-to bomber platform for decades to come, the B-21 borrows from previous stealth platforms while incorporating new (and often not-yet-public) technologies intended to make it the premier deep penetration bomber on the planet. It’s slated to enter operation in as little as seven years and yet, all there’s been to show the public thus far is the same old artist’s rendering against a featureless background — the feature image above is actually the B-21’s predecessor, the B-2 Spirit.

Artists concept of the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber | Northrop Grumman

To give you a better understanding of just how unusual the B-21 program has been when compared to the Lockheed Martin helmed F-35 program, consider the timelines associated with each. The F-35 (originally the X-35) was announced as the winner of America’s “next top fighter” contest way back in 2009, a year before the B-21 project even entered its infancy — now, as the F-35 continues to work toward full operational capacity, the B-21 is apparently on track to reach an operational status at right around the same time as the fighters that will escort it. More impressive still, is how little about the new bomber has made its way to the public despite this expedited timeline.

According to officials, the B-21 design has already completed wind tunnel testing and is rapidly approaching Critical Design Review (CDR). That process plays an integral role in not only ensuring the aircraft can do what has been promised, but in marrying contractors to the various elements of the design for the acquisitions process. An aircraft is made of numerous complex components, many of which are sourced through a series of sub-contractors, each specializing in specific aspects of the construction of completed assemblies that will reach the air frame under Northrop Grumman’s purview.

“We haven’t done CDR yet [but] we are on our way to critical design review,” said the director and executive officer of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, Randy Walden. “I suspect it will be done before the end of the year. That’s our plan today.”