PALMDALE, Calif.: For the first time in a generation, the Air Force revealed a new stealth bomber — a sleek, highly capable weapon the service hopes will be so deadly it would force leaders in China or Russia to rethink wars for decades to come.
The Air Force unveiled the Northrop Grumman-made B-21 Raider to the public Friday in a ceremony at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, that included top defense officials, Northrop Grumman chief executive Kathy Warden, and a tribute to the storied Doolittle Raiders for whom the bomber is named.
“The audacity of the Doolittle Raiders has inspired generations of American aviators,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the ceremony, as the imposing aircraft loomed behind him. “It’s fitting that the next chapter in American airpower is named in their honor.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is deterrence the American way,” Austin said.
The ceremony was attended by families of some of the Doolittle Raiders and a crowd of Northrop Grumman employees. Their mood was celebratory, as employees occasionally broke into chants of “USA! USA!” and cheered.
As dusk fell and a Northrop Grumman employee sang the National Anthem, a procession of three bombers streaked overhead — first a B-52 Stratofortress, then a B-1 Lancer with its afterburners roaring, and finally a B-2 Spirit bomber.
After Warden’s comments, in which she thanked the employees who designed and built the bomber, dramatic music played. A pair of massive hangar doors slid open, where the B-21 sat under a massive cover and bathed in fog and blue light.
The sheet dropped, revealing the bomber, and it was towed forward to the edge of the hangar as the crowd applauded.
The long-awaited debut of the B-21 marks a milestone in reshaping the Air Force’s increasingly creaky bomber fleet. It comes at a time when Russia is attempting to conquer Ukraine, China’s view of Taiwan is sparking concern, and when the U.S. military wants a highly public display to serve as a pointed warning to America’s adversaries.
And if a war with China were to break out, that nation’s recent military advancements — particularly air defenses — will require the Air Force to have aircraft that can slip undetected into enemy territory. The Air Force hopes the B-21?s advanced stealth capabilities will allow it to carry out such penetrating strike missions.
Air Force leaders envision the B-21 as the “backbone” of its future bomber force, and a key element of the U.S. military arsenal for perhaps the next half-century. When the highly classified, secretive bomber starts arriving at Air Force bases such as Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota later this decade, it will arrive with the capability to carry both nuclear and conventional weapons, including standoff and direct attack munitions — and an estimated $203 billion price tag for the program.
The B-21 will be one of the top two biggest aircraft acquisitions in U.S. military history, rivaled only by the F-35, Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert and managing director of Metrea Strategic Insights, told Defense News. Other major efforts include Navy shipbuilding programs such as the Columbia and Virginia class submarines, and the next-generation nuclear missile dubbed Sentinel, previously known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.
The ceremony marked the first time the Air Force has rolled out a new bomber in more than three decades, since the B-2 Spirit?s debut at the same site in November 1988. Like its predecessor, the bat-shaped B-21 has a flying wing design with no tail and minimal fuselage, which reduces drag and its signature on enemy radar.
- Defence News / News Agencies