Pentagon Intros Secret New Bomber: 'Won't Really See It'

B-21 Raider is first US stealth warplane of its kind in more than 30 years, meant to combat China
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 2, 2022 4:15 PM CST
From the Pentagon, the First Aircraft of Its Kind in 34 Years
This undated artist rendering shows a US Air Force graphic of the B-21.   (US Air Force via AP)

America's newest nuclear stealth bomber is making its public debut after years of secret development and as part of the Pentagon's answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China. The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years, per the AP. Almost every aspect of the program is classified. Ahead of its unveiling Friday at an Air Force facility in Palmdale, California, only artists' renderings of the warplane have been released. Those few images reveal that the Raider resembles the black nuclear stealth bomber it will eventually replace, the B-2 Spirit, which was rolled out in 1988.

The bomber is part of the Pentagon's efforts to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad, including 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. China is on track to have 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035, and its gains in hypersonics, cyberwarfare, space capabilities, and other areas present "the most consequential and systemic challenge to US national security and the free and open international system," the Pentagon said this week in its annual China report. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other invited guests will be on hand Friday to witness the bomber's public unveiling.

While the Raider may resemble the B-2 Spirit, once you get inside, the similarities stop, said Kathy Warden, chief executive of Northrop Grumman Corp., which is building the Raider. Changes likely include advanced materials used in coatings to make the bomber harder to detect, as well as new ways to control electronic emissions, so the bomber could spoof adversary radars and disguise itself as another object, several defense analysts say. They add that there will also likely be use of new propulsion technologies. Warden couldn't discuss specifics of the technologies, but she noted that the bomber will be more stealthy. "When we talk about low observability, it is incredibly low observability," she said. "You'll hear it, but you really won't see it." Six B-21 Raiders are in production.

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The Air Force plans to build 100 that can deploy either nuclear weapons or conventional bombs and can be used with or without a human crew. The cost of the bombers is unknown. The Air Force previously put the price for a buy of 100 aircraft at an average cost of $550 million each in 2010 dollars—roughly $753 million today—but it's unclear how much the Air Force is actually spending. The Raider will not make its first flight until 2023. (More stealth bomber stories.)

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