The B-21 Raider is expected to start flying next year.
The Raider is also “multi-functional,” Austin said. “It can handle anything from intel gathering to battle management to integrating with our allies and partners.”
The B-21 has been designed with an “open architecture,” allowing the Air Force to swap out older systems more easily for new technologies. This approach was adopted to help prevent the bomber, which was initially designed almost a decade ago, from becoming obsolete amid rapid technological advances.
“So as the United States continues to innovate, this bomber will be able to defend our country with new weapons that haven’t even been created yet,” Austin said.
Unlike many recent military aircraft programs, most famously the controversial F-35 fighter jet, the new bomber has stayed on cost and on schedule. The Air Force has set a $500 million ceiling for the unit cost in 2010 dollars; in 2019, Northrop said the Air Force’s target cost would be just over $600 million, accounting for inflation.
Over the next few months, the B-21 will undergo additional testing to make sure it is ready for its first flight, which Northrop has said will likely occur in 2023.
The Raider is named for the Doolittle Raiders, known for their surprise attack on Japan during World War II. To pick the name, then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein put out a call for submissions and chose from a list of thousands of options that ranged from the ridiculous — “Sneaky McBombFace” — to the ominous — “Black Death.”
The first new B-21s will be based out of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and formal training will be conducted there as well. Maintenance and sustainment will be handled at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, while testing and evaluation is being performed at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Other prime contractors include Pratt & Whitney, which provides the engine; BAE Systems, which is most likely building the electronic warfare system; GKN Aerospace; Janicki Industries; Orbital ATK, which was acquired by Northrop; Rockwell Collins; and Spirit AeroSystems, according to Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners.