US Air Force releases first details of top secret B-21 that could take to the air in 2020

Mark Prigg — Daily Mail Sept 26, 2016

The Air Force’s long-range strike bomber that will replace the antique B-52’s developed during the cold war has officially been named the B-21 Raider.

The all-black plane has a distinctive, zigzagging shape and a low profile designed to make it hard to spot on radar.

It is ‘projected to enter service in the mid-2020s, building to a fleet of 100 aircraft.’

The name was ultimately selected by James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein after a panel composed of staff from AFGSC and Headquarters Air Force determined the top-ranked selections from more than 2,100 unique naming submissions.

‘The B-21 is intended to operate in both conventional and nuclear roles, with the capability of penetrating and surviving in advanced air defense environments,’ The Air Force said.

The B-21 Raider. Click to enlarge

The B-21 Raider. Click to enlarge

‘It will be capable of operation by an onboard crew or piloted remotely.’

Earlier this year the US Air Force unveiled the first image of its new stealth bomber when Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James provided the world with the first glimpse of the project using an artist’s rendering.

The rendering bears more than a passing resemblance to the Air Force’s B-2 bomber, which is also made by Northrop Grumman.

However the new document reveals it may not be that accurate.

‘The released rendering shows a flying-wing design not dissimilar to the B-2, although simpler in shape.

‘It resembles early proposed designs that later evolved into the B-2.’

The report also outlines the craft’s unmanned capabilities, saying ‘Initial B-21s will be manned, with unmanned operation possible several years after initial operational capability (IOC).’

Nuclear qualification will also take two years or so after IOC, the report says.

It is designed to be launch from the continental US and deliver airstrikes on any location in the world.

At an earlier event in Orlando, James revealed the plane – previously known as the Long Range Strike Bomber – would be called the B-21 until a new name has been agreed on, and she invited air crews to help.

The designation B-21 recognises the aircraft as the military’s first bomber of the 21st century.

‘This aircraft represents the future for our Airmen, and (their) voice is important to this process,’ James told the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium

The program has been shrouded in secrecy since its inception for fear of revealing military secrets to potential enemies.

The military also wanted to avoid giving the losing bidders any details before their formal protest was rejected last week.

The Air Force wants 100 of the warplanes, which will replace the ageing B-52s and the B-1 bombers that first saw action in the 1980s.

Industry news reports say that while the new plane’s specific capabilities are highly secret, it likely will be equipped with high-tech communications gear and other electronics that would allow it to perform a variety of missions, not just dropping bombs.

The new bomber is a high Air Force priority because the oldest ones in its fleet — the venerable B-52s — have far outlived their expected service life.

B-2 Stealth Bomber

B-2 Stealth Bomber

Even the newest — the B-2 stealth bombers — having been flying for more than two decades.

A third bomber, the B-1, is used heavily for conventional strikes, but no longer is certified for nuclear missions.

The Pentagon in October announced Northrop as the winner of the contract to build the bomber in a decades-long program that will likely end up costing in excess of $100 billion.

But work on the new plane was delayed for months while federal auditors reviewed a protest by Boeing and its key supplier, Lockheed Martin.

Boeing has now told senior U.S. Air Force leaders that it will not take further legal action challenging the contract, Reuters said, citing two sources familiar with the decision.

The Air Force, under pressure from lawmakers and retired Air Force officers, has promised to release more information about the new plane in March.

And the program has now survived the legal protest process, it still faces hurdles in Congress.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain on Thursday said he would block the Air Force’s use of a cost-plus type of contract for the long-range bomber since it holds the government responsible for cost overruns.

The Air Force says that only the engineering and development phase of the program, valued at $21.4 billion, is structured as a cost-plus contract with incentive fees.

Analysts say the program will be worth around $80 billion in total, providing a boon to Northrop and its key suppliers, but the Air Force has said only that it expects to pay $511 million per plane.

John Michael Loh, a retired four-star U.S. Air Force general, has urged the Air Force to name Northrop’s suppliers to shore up support in Congress, and avoid a re-run of the B-2 bomber program, which was scaled back from 132 planes to just 21, which drove the price of each plane sharply higher.



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