B-21 Raider – America presents the strategic bomber of the future

B-21 Raider – America presents the strategic bomber of the future


For the first time in 30 years, the United States will show off a new bomber, the B-21 Raider. The number 21 represents the 21st century, and “Raider” refers to a World War II bombing raid carried out by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s team during World War II. What else do we know about the most modern bomber in the world?

The delivery of the new aircraft has been officially confirmed by the US Air Force. The B-21 Raider will be unveiled to the world in the first week of December in a ceremony at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale plant in California.

Although the December ceremony will be the first public display of the machine, the construction of the B-21s is in full swing – in February of this year, the Air Transport Command confirmed the ongoing construction of six prototypes by one of its officers.

B-21 Raider – a new flying wing

The B-21 Raider is a stealth machine with a flying wing system. Its technical parameters are unknown, but – according to analysts – it will be about 1/3 smaller than its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit bomber.

Comparison of the B-2 (left) and the purported silhouette of the B-21
Photo source: © af.mil | Mike Tsukamoto

Comparison of the B-2 (left) and the purported silhouette of the B-21

With a length of 20 meters and a length of 20 meters, in the launch configuration, it weighs 152 tons and carries more than 22 tons of weapons. The type of B-2 bomber that is difficult to detect is about 9.5 thousand. eg, but due to the ability to refuel in the air, it is limited only to the endurance of the crew (the longest mission revealed was 44 hours).

The B-21 Raider will not have such limitations, because the aircraft is designed from the beginning as an optional unmanned machine. Although initially it will require the presence of a pilot, and the development of technology, a man in the cockpit will be only an option, not a necessity.

In addition, the Raider will be able to fulfill a role that goes beyond the bombing mission. Thanks to advanced equipment, it will be able to conduct reconnaissance, radio and electronic warfare, battlefield management and reinterpretation of communications. There is also information from the US military that it is capable of countering enemy aircraft with future AIM-260 missiles.

What aircraft will the B-21 Raider replace?

Although the B-21A Raider has been presented as a successor to the B-2A Spirit, its entry into service does not mean the retirement of the second aircraft. Both types will be in parallel service until around 2032, when the B-2 will be retired.

A little later, in 2036, the old B-1B Lancer is scheduled to be retired. These machines with different wing geometry were designed according to the concept of the 1970s, which initially assumed that the speed and altitude of the flight would ensure the aircraft to survive in enemy airspace.

Three generations of American bombers in one picture.  From left: B-52, B-2, B1
Image source: © Public domain

Three generations of American bombers in one picture. From left: B-52, B-2, B1

The development of anti-aircraft systems has confirmed these ideas. Part of the B-1 fleet has been updated and modified for changing realities, including – above all – low-altitude flights.

The paradox is that America’s oldest bomber – the B-52 – remains in service. Old machines become irreplaceable when large loads have to be lifted into the air at low cost.

The most recent update (probably B-52J), including engines or systems that ensure survivability in the air with strong enemy defense against aircraft, is to extend their service until at least 2050.

B-21 Raider – price and number of copies

The delivery of the B-21 comes at a very different time than the delivery of its predecessor, the B-2. Spirit was introduced to the world in 1988 in an environment of international calm, which resulted in a small order – only 21 machines of this type were built.

The B-21 Raider is presented in a completely different context, as China faces a confrontation with world domination, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has launched the biggest arms conflict in Europe since World War II. Because of this, more new bombers are likely to be ordered, which could be as high as 150 bombers.

Image of the B-21 provided by Northrop Grumman
Photo Credit: © Northrop Grumman

Image of the B-21 provided by Northrop Grumman

The estimated price of around $600 million each will be three times less than that of the B-2. This is influenced by the expected order level, which lowers the unit price, and the faster, cheaper and more efficient design process itself.

Long Strike Striker – old photos

The B-21 is being developed as part of a program called LRS-B (Long Range Strike Bomber) that has been in operation since the beginning of the last decade.

Photos of a plane flying at high altitude taken in the United States in 2014
Image source: © The Aviationist

Photos of a plane flying at high altitude taken in the United States in 2014

Already in 2014, over Texas and Kansas, we were able to photograph birds flying at very high altitudes in a wing-like structure. Moreover, they were different machines, despite the general similarity, they differed in details of construction or shape.

Photo analysis was covered, among others, by the industry magazine “The Aviationist” dedicated to aviation.

The rest of the article below the video

One of the leading aerospace journalists, David Cenciotti, speculated at the time that the images showed experimental units of an unnamed machine, including – possibly – the LRS-B. The US Air Force had no comment on the reports at the time.

Tupolev PAK DA – a new generation Russian strategic bomber

In the context of the new American weapon, it is worth recalling recent reports from Russia, whose authorities proudly announced the start of production of the Tu-160 bomber. This machine is similar to the American B-1 Lancer, that is, built in the 1980s based on a concept that dates back even ten years earlier.

Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber
Photo source: © Mil.ru | SAVITSKY Vadim

Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber

However, while the Americans systematically improved their Lancers, adapting them to the needs of the modern battlefield (“low and fast flight profile”, the use of precision weapons), the pride of the Kremlin remained the machine representing the technology and the idea of ​​ u200b u200fighting straight from the 1980s.

The transformation and modification of the Russian aircraft for today’s needs was brought about by the Tu-160M2 version, which can use a wide range of weapons.

The Russians, however, announce that they are working on a real new generation striker, recently described by Adam Gaafar. The Tupolev PAK DA aircraft (this is the name of the program – Long Range Aviation Concept) is conceptually similar to the B-21. It also shares an aerodynamic system, like the Chinese machine Xian H-20 developed for several years.

However, while the date of entry into service of the B-21, originally planned for the end of this decade, seems likely, Russian resolutions are different. The desire to introduce a new strategic bomber into service in 2028 seems to be a dream, especially in the face of current obstacles, including the advanced projects of the Su-70, Su-75 Checkmate drone, or the modernization of the Su- 57 of the fifth generation.

Łukasz Michalik, journalist of Wirtualna Polska