World gets first look at B-21 Raider

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The Defense Department unveiled its newest bomber aircraft, the B-21 Raider, in Palmdale, California Dec. 2. As the first strategic bomber in more than three decades, the Air Force's B-21 will serve as the backbone of America's bomber force, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said. 

"It's a testament to America's enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation," he said. "And it's proof of the department's long-term commitment to building advanced capabilities that will fortify America's ability to deter aggression, today and into the future."

The B-21 Raider is expected to serve within a larger family of systems for conventional long-range strikes, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; electronic attack; communication; and other capabilities. It is nuclear capable and designed to accommodate manned or unmanned operations. Additionally, it will be able to employ a broad mix of stand-off and direct-attack munitions. 

At the hangar of aircraft manufacturer Northrop Grumman, the B-21 was unveiled amidst dramatic music and lighting effects. The new bomber has a silhouette similar to that of the B-2 Spirit bomber. 

"The B-21 looks imposing," Austin said. "But what's under the frame and the space-age coatings is even more impressive." 

The range of the B-21, Austin said, is unmatched by any other bomber. 

"It won't need to be based in-theater, it won't need logistical support to hold any target at risk," the secretary said. 

Like the B-2 Spirit, the B-21 Raider is a stealth aircraft. It will be hard for adversaries to see that it's coming, Austin said. 

"Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft," he said. "Even the most sophisticated air-defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky." 

Austin also said the B-21 Raider is designed to be easily maintainable, which will help ensure that the aircraft is always ready to go when its needed. 

"We don't really have a capability unless we can maintain it," he said. "The B-21 is carefully designed to be the most maintainable bomber ever built." 

As a dual-capable penetrating strike stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider is capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions. It will be able to support joint and coalition forces across the full spectrum of operations, Austin said, and is also designed to be flexible enough to meet the evolving threat environment.

"The Raider was built with open-system architecture, which makes it highly adaptable," Austin said. "As the United States continues to innovate, this bomber will be able to defend our country with new weapons that haven't even been invented yet. And the B-21 is multi-functional. It can handle anything from gathering intel, to battle management, to integrating with our allies and partners. And it will work seamlessly across domains, and theaters, and across the joint force." 

The B-21 Raider was built by Northrop Grumman and was developed through a deep partnership with stakeholders in the U.S. military, Austin said. 

"The B-21 is the result of deep teamwork at this plant," he said. "Our Air Force pilots, maintainers and DOD civilians have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with their industry counterparts. In fact, they've been on the production line here in Palmdale to assist. The B-21 is a testament to the best of America's vibrant and diverse industrial base. This sort of advance makes us great, and this sort of advance doesn't just happen. It takes investment. It takes cooperation. And it takes partnership." 

The secretary said he and the Defense Department are committed to continuing with that kind of cooperation with the defense industrial base to ensure that the best technology America can offer will be available to contribute to the nation's defense. 

"The Department is going to continue to invest in tech," he said. "We're going to bring new companies into our supplier base, and we're going to keep honing our acquisitions process to get the right capabilities before we need them." 

Development on the B-21 Raider began in 2015 when the Air Force awarded the engineering and manufacturing development contract. The Air Force expects to acquire a minimum of 100 of the aircraft. 

The "B-21" designation, according to the Air Force, was chosen because the aircraft is the first new bomber of the 21st century, while the name "Raider" was chosen to represent the Doolittle Raiders, who flew a surprise attack during World War II. 

"Eighty years ago, on a cold and rainy April morning, four months after Pearl Harbor, 16 U.S. Army bomber planes took off from an aircraft carrier in the Pacific," Austin explained. "Then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle embarked on a daring mission. At high cost, he and his team of aviators flew more than 650 miles to strike distant enemy targets. And the Doolittle Raiders, as they came to be known, showed the strength and the reach of American airpower." 

Like the Doolittle Raiders defended America during WWII, the B-21 Raider is expected to do the same now and into the future, Austin said. 

"This isn't just another airplane. It's not just another acquisition," Austin said. "It's the embodiment of America's determination to defend the republic that we love. It's a testament to our strategy of deterrence -- with the capabilities to back it up, every time and everywhere. That's what America does."