AFA NEWS: Five of the New B-21 Raider Bombers in Production

By Mikayla Easley

Nothrop Grumman concept art

National Harbor, Md. — Five test B-21 Raiders are currently in final production at manufacturer Northrop Grumman’s plant in Palmdale, California, the Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall announced Sept. 20.

Prior to the announcement, it was thought that only two of the stealth planes were in production. Designed to replace aging fleets of B-1 and B-2 bombers, the B-21 Raider will become “the backbone of the Air Force bomber fleet,” Kendall said in a keynote speech at the Air Force Association’s Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

Modernizing the Air Force’s aging bomber fleet with production of the B-21 has been one of the service’s top priorities. The Pentagon has previously been highly secretive about the Raider's development. It hopes to eventually obtain at least 100 of the bombers and have some enter service by the mid-2020s, according to a July Congressional Research Service report. The Biden administration’s funding request for further development of the program in the fiscal year 2022 budget was $2.98 billion, up from the previous year’s approved $2.84 billion.

“The program is making good progress to field real capability,” Kendall said. “This investment in meaningful military capabilities that project power and hold targets at risk anywhere in the world addresses my number one priority.”

Kendall noted that after taking office in July, that his main priority would be to improve the ability of the Air and Space Forces to deter and defeat the United States’ biggest threats — particularly China. He cited Beijing’s accelerated defense modernization programs, from its expanding nuclear arsenal to conventional capabilities, as areas that disturbed him. Kendall emphasized the importance of the United States’ own military programs like the B-21 that would ensure the U.S. military could outpace such threats.

Without these capabilities in the Air and Space Forces, Kendall said other service’s missions would become “inexecutable.”

“If our one-team… is going to win the one fight to keep our freedom, it will be because of the success of our Air and Space Forces,” Kendall said.

While it is important to respond quickly to the technological advancements of U.S. adversaries, Kendall said, innovation should be done in a way that efficiently uses resources and results in tangible improvements in capabilities for military personnel.

He singled out the Advanced Battle Management System, or ABMS, as one inefficient program. ABMS is the Air Force’s latest effort to modernize its command-and-control system.

“My early observation is that this program has not been adequately focused on achieving and fielding specific, measurable improvements in operational outcomes,” Kendall said.

There were, however, other programs besides the B-21 Raider that were showing signs of improvement, Kendall said. He highlighted the Space Force’s use of satellites for ground moving target indicators, or GMTI, and developments with artificial intelligence and data analytics as two other examples.

Kendall urged Congress to do what they could to help the Air and Space Forces focus on their missions, saying he would be happy to work with legislators to find a way to make every change they needed.

“Several years ago, I messaged members of Congress and to anyone who would listen and said, 'We are running out of time,'” Kendall said. “Today, we are out of time.”

Topics: Air Power, Air Force News

Comments (9)

Re: Five Next-Gen U.S. Test Bombers Currently in Production

"inexecutable" ?

Brian Foley at 10:49 AM
Re: Five Next-Gen U.S. Test Bombers Currently in Production

Now they need to put a focus on making platforms cheap enough that DoD can buy enough to ensure mission capabilities and dominance even in the event of casualties.

George at 4:59 PM
Re: Five Next-Gen U.S. Test Bombers Currently in Production

They have tried to say the B-52 was going to be replaced by a number of new platforms. In the end, the B-1 and B-2 will be retired and we will still be flying the B-52. As we approach the century mark for the current airframes, I have no doubt the B-52 will end up retiring the B-21 and its descendent.

J. Matthew Phipps at 10:15 AM
Re: Five Next-Gen U.S. Test Bombers Currently in Production

Airforce inefficiently uses resources and that results in zero improvements in capabilities for military personnel. B1, B2, B52, F22, F35 and drone aircraft were all used in Afghanistan. All couldn't provide sustained cost effective over watch of our forces. In fact their inefficiency led to US and allied deaths and the deaths of thousands of civilians. If your systems and leadership can't beat goat herders you think your gonna beat a first or second world power that shoots back...,

JAI at 9:14 AM
Re: Five Next-Gen U.S. Test Bombers Currently in Production

The USAF should actually build the "747 Bomber CMCA."

The USAF is going to have all these expensive and valuable B-21 Stealth Bombers and old conventional B-52s with the divestment of B-1s and B-2s...but what is going to shoulder the conventional load besides B-52s?

The US makes the 747 (for a long time before it stopped production) so it makes sense to have a conventional commercial bomber that flies close to Mach 0.9 and has all the spare parts and support in CONUS. The USAF has extensive training and experience flying 747s and the US has modified 747s for all kinds of missions from VIP to C4ISR to cargo to secure communications to airborne laser. 747s have chaff/flare, EW/ECM, midair refueling, consoles, and anti-missile lasers.

The 747 Bomber's upper "hump deck" can be used to control drones and UCAVs while the rest of the fuselage is dedicated to cruise missiles, Hypersonics, smart bombs, etc. Even mounting some external pylons for air-to-air missiles and anti-missile missiles can give the 747 CMCA a fighting chance.

Finally, the US can build more 747s for attrition compared to customized and expensive stealth bombers once the production order ends.

Re: Five Next-Gen U.S. Test Bombers Currently in Production

BOMBERS...are sooo out of date,like Battleships...Hyper Glide Vehicles will wipe then out before pilots can even get dressed

Mark Rothschild at 2:04 PM
Re: Five Next-Gen U.S. Test Bombers Currently in Production

Improvement: It now runs on Windows 11 and allows you to play Tik-Tok videos while you fly it.

Scott L at 3:43 PM
Re: Five Next-Gen U.S. Test Bombers Currently in Production

Has China already ripped off the plans? It's probably in production there already, soon to fly! The US leaks like a sieve and every one of their planes, ships, etc has US styled attributes. Also, now that Dumb Joe left BILLIONS of our equipment in Afghanistan, you can be certain Russia and China are already striping vehicles and electronics to improve their own militaries.

Term Limits at 8:18 PM
Re: Five Next-Gen U.S. Test Bombers Currently in Production

The picture is a dead ringer for a B-2. How exactly is this different?

Tom Corral at 8:01 PM
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