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The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has released a new artist’s rendering and fact sheet for its new B-21 Raider stealth bomber. This is the third such image to have been officially released by the USAF of the new Northrop Grumman-built bomber, and it reveals some new details of the top secret program.
The new rendering depicts a B-21 flying at Edwards Air Force Base, California, where it is planned to join the 420th Flight Test Squadron once it enters flight-testing as part of the B-21 Combined Test Force. The first two B-21s are currently in production at the nearby Air Force Plant 42 at Palmdale. The first flight of a B-21 is currently planned before the middle of 2022, before the first two aircraft move to Edwards for an intensive flight-test program.
The latest image reveals some interesting features of the B-21, notably a deeper keel that could indicate a larger weapons bay than the B-2, which the Raider broadly resembles. The aircraft also features an unusual, curved side-cockpit window configuration and pronounced “hawk’s bill” chine (flattened) leading edge. Notably, the image doesn’t reveal the engine air intakes, which have undergone a “major redesign,” according to Randall Walden, Air Force Rapid Capability Office director.
The new image’s accompanying media release states: “The B-21 program continues to execute the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase and is focused on scaling the manufacturing infrastructure and capacity across the industrial supply base to prepare for low rate initial production. A critical design review conducted in 2018 concluded the aircraft has a mature and stable design.”
The new long range conventional and nuclear bomber will ultimately replace the B-1B Lancer and B-2A Spirit, giving Air Force Global Strike Command a fleet of B-21s and upgraded B-52Hs. “Nuclear modernization is a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Air Force, and B-21 is key to that plan,” said Walden. “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.”
The USAF says it is on track to deliver B-21s to the first operational base, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, in the mid-2020s. Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, will also receive B-21s.
Giving some clearer details about the B-21’s capabilities, the new fact sheet states: “The B-21 Raider will be a component of a larger family of systems for conventional Long Range Strike, including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, electronic attack, communication and other capabilities. It will be nuclear capable and designed to accommodate manned or unmanned operations. Additionally, it will be able to employ a broad mix of stand-off and direct-attack munitions.”
The fact sheet also states that the USAF will receive a “minimum of 100 aircraft” and that the average unit procurement cost will be $550 million (base year 2010 dollars) /$639 million (base year 2019 dollars).
So, we are one step closer to knowing what a B-21 Raider will actually look like. It can only be hoped that next time the USAF releases an image of its new bomber, it will be a real photo of a real aircraft, rather than yet another artist’s rendition.