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December 2, 2022, marked a significant milestone for Northrop Grumman. The defense firm unveiled the B-21 Raider, a new stealth bomber, at the hangar of its Palmdale facility. This long-range strike bomber is part of the United States military’s plan to deploy a nuclear triad to avert adversaries.
While the public has already glimpsed the new members of the stealth bomber family, the B-21 is yet to soar the skies and take its place as the prime American aircraft bomber of the present and the future.
That said, the debut of the B-21 paved the way for the military to reassess their defensive and offensive strategies. Additionally, the stealth bomber introduces more technologically advanced methods that reduce collateral damage and ensure victory on the battlefield.
A Brief Background of the new stealth bomber B-21 Raider
Conceptualizing the B-21 Raider began in 2011 up to 2014. The US Air Force (USAF) started the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program; it aims to develop an aircraft with unrivaled air defenses against various attacks.
In 2015, Northrop Grumman won a development contract worth nearly $80 billion to begin building the new stealth bomber. The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office oversees all management and acquisitions operations.
To date, Northrop Grumman continues to test and assemble B-21 Raider prototypes. Testing sessions are done at its Palmdale facility until it is ready for delivery to the US Air Force by 2030.
What are the prime capabilities of the new stealth bomber?
The B-21 Raider is a sixth-generation aircraft envisioned for world-class stealth operations and advancing the US Air Force‘s national security missions.
CEO and President Kathy Warden, an eight-time Wash100 Awardee, highlighted that the new stealth bomber represents a new era in technology. She added that it works to bolster the nation’s role in delivering peace by deterring airborne threats.
So what makes the B-21 the stealth bomber of the next generation?
Here are some of the prime features that set the long-range strike bomber aircraft from its predecessors and potentially others:
- Digital cloud-based bomber — the B-21 Raider is a digital striker equipped with agile software development, advanced manufacturing techniques, and digital engineering tools. In 2022, Northrop Grumman successfully migrated B-21 ground systems into a cloud-based digital twin environment.
Added to that, Northrop Grumman builds B-21 Raider with these automated capabilities to mitigate production risks and implement sustainment practices.
- Open architecture — From its conceptualization and implementation, B-21 was designed to be customizable to cater to rapidly evolving threats in the aerospace environment. This ensures the new stealth bomber is ready for all kinds of attacks in the present and the future.
- Global reach — The B-21 Raider is key to the US Air Force being able to fill the gap of intercontinental service. The bomber is also made to deliver intelligence and deterrence abilities that protect the interests of the USA and its allies.
The B-21 Raider reveal at Palmdale didn’t just give hints as to what the USAF plans for dominating the airfield. The reveal showed a smaller, yet more formidable new stealth bomber that will reign the skies once it takes flight
According to a 2004 case study by the Air Force Institute of Technology Systems Engineering, The B-21 Raider has:
- an estimated wingspan of 132 feet (40.23 m)
- a length of 54 feet (16.46 m)
- an empty weight of 70,000 lbs. (31751.5 kg)
- a takeoff weight of 180,000 lbs. (81646.6 kg).
These dimensions are significantly smaller and lighter than the B-2 series of stealth bombers. The B-2 series is what the new stealth bomber will be replacing soon in 2030.
So, how can the B-21 be “more formidable” when it is smaller and lighter than its predecessors?
New features added to the 21st-century stealth bomber
Military defense systems don’t always have to be massive to be impactful. One prime example is the M142 HIMARS. This rocket artillery system only carries a maximum of six missiles, which is half of what its predecessor can carry at most.
That said, HIMARS is more portable and easier to load inside military aircraft. Similarly, the B-21 Raider’s smaller size allows for more convenient loading and transport on larger aircraft and carrier ships.
Added to that, the portability is also beneficial to warfighters in the future as it allows the USAF to maximize the space of its carrier aircraft.
The sleeker B-21 Raider adopted a fuel-efficient architecture, enabling longer flight hours and distances with reduced fuel consumption and cost.
Part of the stealth bomber’s fuel-saving design is a smoothened surface, a feature that reduces drag for better lift and flight time.
With a smaller build, B-21 Raider pilots would have better control of the aircraft. Enhanced control would mean more stealth and movability while in combat. Other than improved maneuverability, the reduced size and weight also make the new stealth bomber less visible in the skies.
Pilots will have the advantage of identifying targets without compromising their positions to enemies. Another worth mentioning are earlier photos of the aircraft revealing smaller frames that offer pilots a more limited view.
On a brighter note, former USAF commander Robert Spalding underscored that B-21’s digital capabilities enable pilots to maneuver the aircraft comfortably.
Designed for low-risk
Northrop Grumman didn’t just reduce the size of the B-21 Raider as it also changed the design of its planform. While its new style isn’t that far off from the B-2 Bomber’s planform design, B-21’s is equipped with low-altitude dash capability.
This feature enables the aircraft to stay stealthy, speedy, and mobile even at low altitudes. The redesigned planform is also intended to accommodate large weapon attachments and complex inlets and exhausts.
Additionally, the new stealth bomber’s design includes more internal space, low infrared signatures, and minimized residual thermal signatures. It also has a reduced risk of getting detected by radars.
B-21 Raider Taking Flight
Earlier in October 2023, a US Air Force spokesperson confirmed that the B-21 Raider began its taxi test. The test took place at Northrop Grumman’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. Other B-21 Raider bombers are currently in different stages of production. So far, six units form the core of a test force at another air base.
Reportedly, the ground test is the preliminary step for the new stealth bomber to complete its developmental milestones. This is before it finally takes its first flight by the end of this year. The testing also enables the USAF to evaluate the stealth bomber’s design, operational effectiveness, and ability to mitigate threats.
B-21 Raider: A New Stealth Bomber for Naval Strikes?
Northrop Grumman’s new stealth bomber design is for aerial combat. However, it could turn the US Navy into a more formidable force in the maritime battlefield.
Through this B-21 reveal, military thinkers thought of the possibility of using stealth bombers to attack ships and other sea targets. They highlighted that the bomber’s high level of low observability makes it the best candidate for a penetrating-strike role.
Now, with the growing tension in the Pacific, the B-21 Raider may be the answer to finally destroying enemies’ air defense bubbles. This is a possibility once it fully replaces the B-2 series of stealth bombers.
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