The United States’ new stealthy nuclear bomber debuted on Friday after years of secret development and as part of the Pentagon’s response to growing concerns over a future conflict with China.
The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber in more than 30 years. Almost all aspects of the program are confidential.
As evening fell over Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, the public got their first look at the Raider in a highly controlled ceremony. It began with a flyby of the three bombers still in service: the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-1 Lancer, and the B-2 Spirit. The hangar doors were then slowly opened and the B-21 was partially towed out of the building.
The bomber is part of the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize all three arms of its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched warheads, as it migrates from the counterterrorism campaigns of past decades to rapid military modernization. from China.
China is on track to have 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035, and its achievements in hypersonic weapons, cyber warfare, space capabilities and other areas present “the most significant systemic challenge to the national security of the United States and the free and open international system,” it reported. this week the Pentagon in its annual report on China.
“We needed a new bomber for the 21st century that would allow us to deal with much more complicated threats, like the threats we fear one day from China or Russia,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said when the Raider contract was announced in 2015.
Although the Raider may look like the B-2 on the outside, on the inside the similarities disappear, said Kathy Warden, CEO of Northrop Grumman Corp., which builds the Raider.
“The way it operates internally is extremely advanced compared to the B-2, because the technology has come a long way in terms of computing power that we can now incorporate into the B-21 software,” Warden added.
Other changes include advanced materials used in the skins to make the bomber harder to detect, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
“Fifty years of advances in low-detection technology have gone into this aircraft,” Austin said. “Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will have a hard time spotting a B-21 in the sky.”
Other advances are likely to include new ways to control electronic emissions, so the bomber can evade adversary radars and disguise itself as another object, and the use of new propulsion technologies, several defense analysts said.
“It’s incredibly unobservable,” Warden said. “They’ll hear it, but they won’t really see it.”
There are six Raiders in production. The Air Force plans to build 100 that can deploy nuclear weapons or conventional bombs and can be used with or without a human crew.
The cost of the bombers is unknown. The Air Force had pegged the price at an average of $550 million each in 2010 — about $753 million today — but it’s unclear how much is actually being spent. The total will depend on how many bombers the Pentagon buys.