US unveils next-generation stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider

The United States has unveiled its latest high-tech strategic bomber – the B-21 Raider – which is capable of carrying a nuclear payload and can be flown without a crew on board.

The next-generation stealth bomber was rolled out at arm’s manufacturer Northrop Grumman’s facility in California during a flashy ceremony attended by top US officials on Friday.

The aerospace and design company, Northrop Grumman has hailed the new planes as “the backbone of our future bomber force”.

The long-range bomber’s first flight is expected to take place in 2023. Six of the long-range bombers are in various stages of assembly and testing at its facility in California.

The U.S. Air Force which unveiled the B-21 Raider in Palmdale, California said, “This isn’t just another airplane,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. “It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love.”

The B-21 is part of the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched warheads, as it shifts from the counterterrorism campaigns of recent decades to meet China’s rapid military modernization.

The US Air Force plans to buy at least 100 of the B-21 aircraft, which comes with a $700m price tag per plane, a Northrop Grumman spokesperson said.

The unveiling of the new bombers comes at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions between the US, Russia, and China amid the war in Ukraine and the territorial integrity of Taiwan.

“We needed a new bomber for the 21st Century that would allow us to take on much more complicated threats, like the threats that we fear we would one day face from China, Russia, ” said Deborah Lee James, the Air Force secretary when the Raider contract was announced in 2015.

Russian and Chinese strategic bombers flew a joint eight-hour patrol over the western Pacific on Wednesday in a display of ongoing military cooperation between the two nations.

China’s Defence Ministry called the mission a “routine” effort in bolstering defence ties with Russia.

Moscow and Beijing are also currently developing strategic stealth bombers – China’s Xian H-20 and Russia’s nuclear-capable Tupolev PAK DA – which are expected to compete with the B-21.

While the B-21 is capable of taking to the air without a pilot, the US Air Force said the aircraft is “provisioned for the possibility, but there has been no decision to fly without a crew”.

“The B-21 Raider is the first strategic bomber in more than three decades,” US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a prepared statement at Friday’s event.

Austin touted the aircraft’s range and superior design. “No other long-range bomber can match its efficiency,” Austin said.

Unveiled today, the B-21 Raider will be a dual-capable, penetrating-strike stealth bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions. The B-21 will form the backbone of the future Air Force bomber force consisting of B-21s and B-52s.

“Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft,” he said.

“Even the most sophisticated air defence systems will struggle to detect the B-21 in the sky.”

The B-21, which carries a similar “flying wing” shape to its predecessor, will be capable of carrying conventional and nuclear weapons around the world using long-range and midair refueling capabilities.



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