The United States Air Force has just announced that they have chosen the B-21 Raider as their next-generation strategic bomber. This aircraft is aimed to replace the aging B-52 Stratofortress and B-1 Lancer fleet and will be a significant part of American air warfare for years to come. The B-21 Raider is still in development, but it promises to be a formidable weapon against our enemies.

History

Since the early days of military aviation, bombers have been a mainstay of air combat. They can carry large payloads and strike targets deep in enemy territory. The B-21 Raider is the latest in a long line of bombers, and it is poised to become one of the most important weapons in the US arsenal.

The development of the B-21 was kept under wraps, but Air Force started development in February 2015. In May 2016, the Air Force awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman to build the first 21 bombers.

It was designed from the ground up to be stealthy and capable of carrying out a wide range of missions. The first prototype flew in December 2015, and the aircraft is now entering service with the US Air Force.

“B-21 development was highly classified until the summer of 2015 when the Air Force revealed initial details of the aircraft and the program. Although technical specifications and other data remain out of public view, many details of the budget, acquisition strategy, procurement quantities, and other aspects of the B-21 program are now in the public arena. On September 20, 2021, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced that five B-21s were in production,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

The B-21 is the latest addition to the Air Force’s fleet of stealth aircraft. The bomber is designed to evade detection by enemy radar and has a range of over 6000 miles. The bomber is equipped with a variety of weapons, including nuclear missiles.

Initial Specs and Feedback

The B-21 is shaping up to be one of the most versatile and important weapons in the US arsenal. It is designed for global strike missions and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. The Air Force has not released much information about the B-21, but it is believed to be a stealth bomber that will be capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons.

The B-21 was designed around three specific capabilities:

  1. A large and flexible payload bay capable of carrying a full range of current and future armament.
  2. Range (although classified).
  3. Projected average procurement unit cost of $550 million per plane in FY2010 dollars, which was announced publicly to encourage competing manufacturers to constrain their designs

In the Air Force’s latest rendering, many have mixed opinions about its design, with some questioning its efficiency during combat. Some praised the aircraft’s sleek, futuristic design, while others have raised concerns about its stealth capabilities. Aviation experts could see that the B-21’s low-observable design would make it difficult for enemy radar systems to detect.

However, other experts have voiced concerns that the B-21 may not be as stealthy as the air force claims. In addition, it could be critically pointed out that the aircraft’s engines are highly visible and could potentially give away its location.

However, the Air Force emphasizes that the B-21 raider is designed “perform long range conventional and nuclear missions and to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, the B-21 will be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad.”

“Nuclear modernization is a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Air Force, and B-21 is key to that plan,” said Randall Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. “The built-in feature of open systems architecture on the B-21 makes the bomber effective as the threat environment evolves. This aircraft design approach sets the nation on the right path to ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability.”

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Despite the mixed reviews, most experts agree that the B-21 is a significant step forward for the Air Force and will be a valuable asset in future conflicts.

Maj. Gen. Mark Weatherington, 8th Air Force and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center commander, said he is optimistic about the impact the B-21 Raider will add to the Air Force’s growing number of stealth aircraft.

“Since its humble beginnings as Rapid City Army Air Base in 1942 with a mission of training B-17 Flying Fortresses for missions in the European theater, Ellsworth has continuously evolved into its current role of providing combat airpower – anytime, anywhere around the globe. Now home to three of the four original squadrons that participated in the historic Doolittle Raid, the rich heritage continues today with Ellsworth’s selection as the first main operating base for the B-21 ‘Raider’ bomber.

“The Doolittle Raid proved there was no target out of reach for the United States, and the B-21 Raider will continue that legacy as the nation’s most advanced long-range aircraft capable of penetrating any enemy airspace with a diverse set of weapons,” Weatherington added.

When Will B-21 Actually Be Available?

Budget documents and testimony have long indicated that the B-21 was expected to reach IOC in the mid-2020s. More recently, Air Force statements have raised the possibility of a later IOC.

The B-21 bomber is “progressing really well,” Global Strike Command chief Gen. Robin Rand told reporters…it looks like “in the mid-2020s, we’ll have the first one at one of our bases,” with initial operating capability “in the late ’20s”. He reiterated his “strong recommendation” that USAF buy “at least 100” of the bombers and “make sure we get to that [number] by the late ’30s.” At such a rate, production would be around five per year. It is not clear whether the move to a potential “late 2020s” IOC is driven by program issues, budget constraints, or other issues. However, an Air Force fact sheet issued after this testimony reinstated the “mid-2020s” date.

And just as projected, the B-21 is scheduled to enter service in 2025. The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 bombers in total. The bomber will be based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

The B-21 is scheduled to enter service in 2025 and will be based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

“We are excited to be selected as the first B-21 main operating base,” said. Col. David Doss, 28th Bomb Wing commander. “Our selection is a testament to the strategic role the base continues to play in the defense of our nation, coupled with the robust relationship we have with our community stakeholders and neighbors.

“Time and again we have demonstrated our ability to answer our nation’s call, thanks in large part to the strong support provided to our Airmen, families and mission,” Doss added. “For that, we are very thankful, and we look forward to continuing to deliver cutting edge long range strike for our Nation.”

With a total cost of $80 billion, the B-21 is one of the most expensive military projects in history. However, despite mixed reviews from experts, most agree that the B-21 is a significant step forward for the air force and that it will be a valuable asset in future conflicts.