Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, speaking outside the hangar, said the plane is proof of the Department of Defense’s long-term commitment to building advanced capabilities that “will strengthen America’s ability to deter aggression, now and in the future”. The stealth aircraft, he said, incorporates “50 years of advances in low-observability technology”, making it difficult for “even the most sophisticated air defense systems” to detect a B-21 in the sky.
“The B-21 looks imposing,” Austin said. “But what’s underneath the space-age frame and coverings is even more impressive.”
Austin added that US defense is rooted in deterrence and the development of the B-21 again serves as a symbol.
“We make it clear again to any potential enemy: the risks and costs of aggression far outweigh any imaginable gains,” Austin said.
The program is expected to cost at least $80 billion, with the Air Force seeking at least 100 aircraft. It is the first U.S. military aircraft to feature so-called sixth-generation technology, leveraging advanced artificial intelligence, computer networks, and data fusion to aid pilots when performing combat missions. long-range bombardment forcing them in and out of enemy airspace. The Air Force is also investigating whether the B-21 could be piloted remotely, though this will likely be years after its first flight.
Much of the program remains classified, even as senior US defense officials and business executives have celebrated its progress. Media at the event here in Palmdale were required to follow a series of basic rules, including no cell phones in the viewing area and, for visual journalists, restrictions on how the aircraft could be photographed.
There are six prototypes of the B-21, company officials said. A first test flight is planned for next year.
For now, the Raider is in a “ground test” phase, with Air Force and Northrop Grumman officials conducting stress tests, evaluating its anti-radar paint application and reviewing functions. basics such as taxiing, Northrop Grumman officials said.
More than 8,000 people work on aspects of the program, with aircraft parts sourced from 40 states.
The Pentagon intends for the Raider to replace the aging B-2 Spirit and B-1B Lancer bombers, phasing out older aircraft by the 2040s. The decades-old B-52 bombers could also be replaced by the B-21 in the coming years. Friday’s unveiling event included flyovers by the three aging bombers.
Until 2006, the Department of Defense thought it could make do with its existing fleet of bombers until 2037. But the Pentagon began looking for alternatives over the next decade, issuing a tender for a new long-range bomber in 2014.
The U.S. military has for many years faced costly problems and delays in the development of other major weapons systems, including the advanced F-35 fighter likely to be partnered with the B-21 in future operations.
Air Force and company officials said in a roundtable with reporters on Friday that the program continues to meet service cost requirements, although the cost per copy has continued to rise. . In 2010, the service said it hoped each plane would cost around $550 million. By 2019, the price had risen to $639 million, according to a Congressional Research Service report released last year, and the cost is expected to continue to climb.
Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, Air Force Chief of Staff, told reporters in Palmdale that the development of the B-21 was a collaboration between the service and Northrop Grumman. He noted that the plane’s Raider moniker is a nod to the Doolittle Raiders, American servicemen who launched a long and daring bombardment of Japan in April 1942, just months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii dragged the United States into the World War. II.
“That spirit of innovation is behind us right now,” Brown said, speaking in the hangar before the unveiling event as the B-21 sat under a coat.
Kathy Warden, chief executive of Northrop Grumman, said on Friday the company iterated through thousands of versions of the plane before selecting a design. Some of its testing and development is done digitally before the company builds hardware, keeping costs down.
“In many ways,” Warden said, “we’re taking technology from the future and bringing it here and now to this plane.”
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