JUST IN: Air Force Leader Shares Details on B-21 Bomber

By Mandy Mayfield

Concept Art: Nothrop Grumman

The Air Force’s secretive B-21 Raider bomber effort is making progress as prime contractor Northrop Grumman builds the program’s first test jet at its Palmdale, California, facility, said one official Oct. 24.

“Today we do have an airplane in there that would be our test jet number one,” said Randall Walden, director and program executive officer for the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, which is spearheading the program. “I won't go into a lot of detail [on] how far along we are, but suffice it to say, ... we're working the production line literally today.”

Walden noted that “big parts” are currently being manufactured at the facility, but did not disclose which specific components are being built.

The date for the aircraft’s projected first flight is still up in the air, Walden said during a breakfast hosted by the Air Force Association in Washington, D.C. The earliest flight date could take place in December 2021. However, he said he would not bet on it.

“Things like large components coming together, integration, ground tests — all the things that lead up to a first flight — have to be accomplished,” he said. “There's a lot of things that have to happen between now and a couple of years, … but in general terms, that's what we're shooting for.”

The B-21 is a complex airplane, so it will take time to get all the parts and subsystems into place, he added.

The Air Force plans to hold a public event next year to roll out the B-21 prior to its first flight, Walden said. 

In hopes of keeping the bomber on its current schedule trajectory, the service is focused on maintaining the aircraft's major design plans, Walden said.

“Requirements is probably the number one thing — if you don't have stable requirements, that's going to drive a lot of” delays, he said. “In fact, the chief of staff of the Air Force is the only guy who changes the requirements on the model.”

The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 new stealth bombers, which will be capable of carrying nuclear or conventional weapons.

Earlier this year, Gen. Stephen “Seve” Wilson, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, said a critical design review for the program was conducted earlier this year and the service was working on software integration.

— Additional reporting by Connie Lee

Topics: Air Force News, Air Power

Comments (6)

Re: Air Force Leader Shares Details on B-21 Bomber

NGC spent many years honing their design before the RFP came out using IR&D and many false starts by the USAF like NGB, etc. But the biggest leg up “Incredulous”, was they got a USAF commitment to NO requirements creep. And all those iterations survived in the 3D design tools they employ nowadays. Many experts forget that NGC was hit with a major B-2 design change from High altitude to Low altitude penetration and NGC didn’t charge the USAF ( a big mistake in hindsight), so keeping requirements stable is a huge help to maintain schedule.

Been There at 4:11 PM
Re: Air Force Leader Shares Details on B-21 Bomber

Do we need to continue developing stealth bombers, the answer is yes. Do we need more stealth bombers, the answer that question is also yes. Is the B-21 "Raider" the answer to the first two question, the answer to that question is no one really knows. The reason no one can answer the first two questions with the B-21 is that the past record of weapons development hasn't be stellar and there's no way of predicting if or when the B-21 will actually be ready. Sad to say, the secrecy in weapon systems development use to be about hiding its development from potential enemies. Today the secrecy is more about will the system actually make it to the flight line, the fleet or out to the troops in the field.

Brian Foley at 12:39 PM
Re: Air Force Leader Shares Details on B-21 Bomber

Is it just me, or does it seem like this program is taking 1/10th of the time it normally does to go from clean sheet to service? They're unveiling a flying prototype next year? It took the F-22 16 years to go from RFP to prototype, and the F-35 eight.

Incredulous at 1:04 AM
Re: Air Force Leader Shares Details on B-21 Bomber

Given the funding, production runs, costs, and associated teething issues, I'd be very surprised if 100 or even over 100 B-21s "Raiders" are built. That in itself is a staggering engineering feat.

The odd thing is that B-21 "Raiders" have no variants. They're purely stealth bombers. Can they be made into Supersonic Transports? Can they be made into AEW/ECM/Cyber planes? Can they be made into stealthy tankers? Can they be made into stealthy SEAD or AAM-only missile carriers? Can they be made into cheaper Mothership drone carriers? Has the USAF actually explored cheaper and wider variety of non-stealthy or semi-stealthy B-21 "Raider" variants and derivatives?

Krashnovians at 6:31 PM
Re: Air Force Leader Shares Details on B-21 Bomber

P-18 “Spoon Rest-D” long-range surveillance radar was able to provide a rough track of Nighthawks within a 15-mile range when tuned down to the lowest possible bandwidth—so low, in fact, that NATO radar-warning receivers were not calibrated to detect it.

PJRiter at 11:22 AM
Re: Air Force Leader Shares Details on B-21 Bomber

Might be great to keep up with defense news.

Ronald Goppold at 11:10 AM
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