The U.S. Air Force will unveil the first of a whole fleet of sixth-generation stealth bomber aircraft to the public on Friday in Palmdale, California.
The new bomber is called the B-21 Raider. Its maker, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, said this name was inspired by the “courageous spirit” of 80 U.S. airmen who volunteered to undertake the surprise “Doolittle Raid” on Japan in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, knowing that they would not have enough fuel to return to safety.
This raid shifted the course of World War 2 in the Pacific. It also marked the start of American superiority in the air, according to a Northrop Grumman press release, so naming this new fleet of bombers after it is auspicious as well as purposeful.
The public showing of the B-21 Raider comes just days after the Pentagon revealed that the People’s Republic of China had accelerated the expansion of its nuclear weapon program at a much faster pace than was expected.
In a bid to challenge the U.S.’s status as the world’s top superpower, Beijing has poured funds into increasing its military might. The Pentagon expects it to have around 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035.
In light of this and other security tensions felt from events abroad, the B-21 Raider — dubbed “the future of deterrence” by its maker — was built with the goals of “supporting national security objectives and assuring the nation’s allies and partners.”
The long-range and mid-air fueling capabilities, as well as the cutting-edge stealth technology of the B-21, will enable it to deliver conventional and nuclear weapon strikes around the world.
“The B-21 is the most advanced military aircraft ever built and is a product of pioneering innovation and technological excellence,” said Doug Young, sector vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman. “The Raider showcases the dedication and skills of the thousands of people working every day to deliver this aircraft.”
Northrop Grumman won the contract in 2015 to build this new generation of bombers, which are destined to replace B-1 and B-2 bombers — the latter having influenced the B-21’s “flying wing” design.
Each aircraft will cost around $692 million to fabricate and run. The Air Force plans to buy as many as 100.
Despite these high costs, the B-21 design includes a cloud-based digital infrastructure and flexible hardware that aims to make it easily and swiftly upgradable through software updates.
This means that the aircraft will not receive block upgrades like the previous bomber generations and thus will be more maintainable in the long run at a lower cost.
While the first B-21 will be revealed soon, its first flight will not take place until 2023. The exact scheduling is dependent on ground tests.
As Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said, this first flight “will be data and event, not date, driven.”
The live unveiling of the B-21 Raider will be streamed online on the Northrop Grumman website here on Friday, December 2, at 6:20 p.m. CT.