BREAKING: B-21 Bomber on Track for First Test Flight in Late 2021
Concept Art: Nothrop Grumman
The Air Force plans to fly the B-21 Raider for the first time around December 2021, according to the service’s vice chief of staff.
“I've got a little software app on [my phone]. It's counting down the days,” Gen. Stephen Wilson said July 24 during remarks at a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event in Washington, D.C. “I think it's something like 863 days to first flight for B-21.”
The aircraft is expected to be a long-range stealth bomber capable of carrying nuclear or conventional weapons. Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor on the effort. The program is being shepherded with a great deal of secrecy by the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, which is tasked with pushing selected high-priority projects through the acquisition process faster.
A critical design review for the program was conducted earlier this year and the service is currently working on software integration, Wilson noted.
Last month, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the B-21 was on track to debut in the mid-2020s.
“The recent critical design review went very well, and as a result our confidence remains very high in this program,” he said June 26 at a Mitchell Institute event. “We're closely monitoring the build of the initial test aircraft and associated software to support the first flight.”
The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 new stealth bombers.
Meanwhile, the service is working to modernize and improve its legacy systems such as the B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit. One recapitalization effort involves installing new engines on the Stratofortress so the platforms can keep flying until the 2050s. A contract award for the new engine is slated for fiscal year 2020.
“We're planning on investing in the B-52 to give it the capability that it needs moving forward,” Wilson said.
Additionally, the service is contemplating what mix of bombers it should have in the future. Air Force leaders have said they need more squadrons in the fleet by 2030 to execute the national defense strategy, which focuses on great power competition with China and Russia. The B-1, B-2 and B-52 are no longer in production, so the service will need to determine how many Raiders to buy and the number of legacy aircraft to keep flying.
“The general premise is we don't have enough long-range strike capacity,” Wilson said. “I’m working with our analysis and teams to figure out what exactly that force structure balance is.”