The B-21 Raider—a B2 Spirit development or a separate plane? Northrop Grumman posted a preview of its new B-21 Raider bomber and announced a complete unveiling on December 2nd at their Palmdale plant with invited guests. The company calls this historic. B-21 Raiders should enter service in 2026–2027. Since this American stealthy heavy strategic bomber took off in 1989, the US has not created a new bomber in 33 years. One may wonder why not modernize the B2 spirit.
The Pentagon plans to use its 50-year-old B-52 for decades. Look at this issue together. One of the three basic components of strategic deterrence is the nuclear triad, which includes strategic bombers, land-based nuclear missiles, and nuclear submarines. Russia’s most advanced strategic bomber, the 2-160, first flew in 1987 without stealth technology. Only the US has stealth bombers.
China’s CNH-6 strategic bomber is a 1952 Soviet 216 modification. China wants to launch the stealthy CNH-20 flying wing aircraft in 2025. Why did the Pentagon buy a new plane instead of updating B2? The Pentagon announced a 10-year, $2 billion B-2 Fleet upgrade initiative in March 2012 to replace antiquated avionics and equipment.
The B-2 Spirit’s outdated modernization has delayed the programme’s completion this year. In 2021, 509th Task Force commander Colonel Keith Butler said B-2s had increased. Beyond fighter escort, the military believes this platform has over 30 years before the B-21 takes over, but a new aircraft will be commissioned in 2627. It has big plans.
The first U.S. Air Force squadron is expected to enter combat after 2026–27, when the first production B-21s arrive. These bombers numbered 140 to 145 by the early 1930s, up from 123 b1bs 45, b2s 20, and b-528s 58. The Northrop Grumman teaser says the B21 will have a flying wing like the B2.
It will also come in manned and unmanned forms, suggesting a sixth-generation aircraft. There is uncertainty about whether it will be a fifth- or sixth-generation aircraft. Tom Jones, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman aeronautical systems, disagrees with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James’ claim that the B-21 Raider is a fifth-generation Global Precision strike platform that will allow the US to conduct networked sensor-based fire and hold targets at risk. The B-21 Raider is a sixth-generation aircraft optimized for extremely difficult conditions, so its generation remains unknown. If we consider it a fifth-generation aircraft, its development programme resembles the F-35 fighter ram.
The US already had an excellent fifth-generation fighter, the F-22, but due to its high production and maintenance costs, it cut it. Thus, when two B2s struck an Isis training site 19 miles southwest of Libya on January 18, 2017, killing 85 militants, American taxpayers spent over $5 million. This excludes guided bombs and air refuelling, as each B2 flew 33 hours from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and refuelled five times.
The Pentagon expects the B-21 to cost $500 million. The aircraft’s 2026–2027 introduction into service and October 2015’s significantly shorter development timetable suggest a B2–B-21 upgrade. Second, the U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman issued a two-wheeled main landing gear drawing on January 30 or 20, 2020, suggesting the aircraft will be smaller and lighter than the B2 since the F-35 is lighter than the F-22.
Finally, since the B-21 was the first substantial modification of the B2, the indices may imply a deep modernization of the B2. According to Air Force secretary Deborah Lee James, the 21 and B-21 index indicate that it is the first 21st-century bomber, not just a B2 modification.
Fifth- or sixth-generation aircraft? Deep modernization of the B2 may allow the new bomber to gain sixth-generation aircraft capabilities like controlling multiple drones and conducting network-centred operations when subordinate drones automatically provide decision-making information. An unmanned version of the B2 Spirit, a missile-free bomber, will improve it.
Modern nations cannot afford such narrow specialization. Strategic aircraft must drop bombs, launch missiles, and fight. No doubt radar jamming resistance will improve. Technology has advanced greatly in 30 years, and air defence However, radars have not been excluded, and the Air Force is intending to buy a new long-range fighter called the penetrator counter-air to join the B-21 Raider on deep-in enemy territory missions.
The new fighter, about which we know little, is designed to help the bomber overcome enemy air defences, so the military realises that stealth is not the only factor. The B2’s Spirit concept means invisible, but Russian or Chinese radars can still detect it, so F-35 fighters must escort it. The B21 Raider will be either a deep modernization of the B2 or a completely new aircraft. We’ll also be able to compare it to Russia’s stealth strategic bomber, codenamed Product 80, scheduled to enter service in 2027.