The U.S. Air Force’s first new, long-range strike bomber since 1988 was unveiled Friday in Palmdale.
While the B-21 Raider isn’t expected to be operational and introduced into service for several more years, the Air Force called Friday’s ceremonial unveiling at Northrop Grumman’s production facilities “a significant milestone in the Air Force’s effort to modernize combat capabilities.”
The B-21 is designed to be a more capable and adaptable, state-of-the-art aircraft that will gradually replace aging B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers now in service, according to the Air Force.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin called the B-21 “a testament to America’s enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation” and “proof of the department’s long-term commitment to building advanced capabilities that will fortify America’s ability to deter aggression, today and into the future.”
The B-21 “is deterrence the American way,” Austin said at the ceremony.
“This isn’t just another airplane,” Austin said. “It’s not just another acquisition. It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love. It’s a testament to our strategy of deterrence with the capabilities to back it up, every time and everywhere.”
The B-21 will be “the backbone of our bomber fleet,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. told reporters before the unveiling.
Air Force officials envision a fleet of at least 100 aircraft with an average procurement unit cost requirement of $692 million in 2022 dollars.
The specific plane unveiled Friday is one of six under production.
Each is considered a test aircraft, but each is being built on the same production line, using the same tools, processes, and technicians who will build production aircraft, an approach the Air Force said has enabled production engineers and technicians to capture lessons learned and apply them directly to follow-on aircraft, driving home a focus on repeatability, producibility and quality.
The B-21 Raider is named in honor of the Doolittle Raids of World War II when 80 men, led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, and 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers set off on a bombing mission of Japan in 1942. The designation B- 21 recognizes the Raider as the first bomber of the 21st century.
The B-21 is billed by its manufacturer, the Northrop Grumman Corp., as “the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft.”