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First 5 US B-21 stealth bombers are being built; will replace B-1, B-2 bombers

A B-21 Raider artist rendering graphic. (U.S. Air Force, Northrop Grumman courtesy image/Released)
September 22, 2021

The first five of the U.S. Air Force’s new B-21 Raider stealth bombers are already in production, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said during a speech before the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference on Monday,

“As I speak there are now five test aircraft being manufactured on the B-21 production line at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California,” Kendall said, Aerospace Manufacturing reported.

“You will never hear me make optimistic predictions about programs,” Kendall added. “All programs have risk and the same is true of the B-21, but at this point at least, the program is making good progress to real fielded capability.”

Kendall’s announcement that the five new stealth bombers are in production comes after Air Force Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Darlene Costello said in June that the first two aircraft are ready to undergo initial testing.

Costello told Aerospace Manufacturing, “We have the design. There are two test aircraft built and it will take a while to get through all the testing. And therefore, there could be some changes as a result of the testing.”

The B-21 Raider’s design is similar to that of its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit. Both bombers feature a flying wing design.

In June, Costello said the priority is “to get through the design, get completed, and not introduce concurrency.”

“Once we get through design and get the first ones delivered, we can adjust production rates and maybe affect them that way, but we have to get through the engineering with solid discipline,” Costello said.

In August, reported the B-21 will replace both the B-2 and the aging B-1 Lancer.

“We have been living off of bomber fleet investments made many decades ago, but that is rapidly changing,” Kendall said Monday, Defense News reported.

According to manufacturer Northrop Grumman, the Air Force has laid out plans to buy at least 100 B-21 bombers, though some defense analysts believe the Air Force could purchase at least 200 B-21s. Defense News reported the first B-21s are set to be fielded by the mid-2020s.

After an April briefing, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the B-21 is “on time, on budget, and they’re making it work in a very intelligent way.”

Following the April briefing, Smith said progress on the B-21 was “one of the most positive, encouraging things that I’ve had happen to me in the last couple of weeks.”

The new B-21 Raider “will provide the United States with a strategic asset capable of penetrating enemy air defenses and reaching targets anywhere in the world — something approximately 90 percent of the nation’s current bomber fleet is incapable of doing,” Northrop Grumman said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula said, “The B-21 will provide the kind of payload, range and penetrability that our current force of B-1s, B-52s and, to a small degree, B-2s, cannot accomplish.”