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