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Prototype B-21 Raider to Be Revealed This Friday Supposed to Very Similar to Production Version

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

Northrop and the Air Force will be unveiling the first prototype on it new stealth B-21 Raider bomber tomorrow at Northrop's Palmdale facility in California. The B-21 is being touted as the first true "sixth generation" war plane and will carry of a plethora of communication and sensor gear designed to allow it to be the communications and sensors hub for a battlespace of thousands of square miles.


In terms of it stealthiness, the B-21 is expected to be more stealthy than the 30 year-old B-2., but just how much stealthier is unclear as the B-21 is very similar in shape and size. No doubt improvements in radar absorbent materials and tweaks to shaping will give it a measurable edge over the B-2, but it seems unlikely that we are talking about it being twice as stealthy.

But the focus of Friday's rollout is not the B-21's improved stealthiness, instead Northrop and the Air Force are emphasizing how advanced digital design tools have allowed Northrup to build a prototype that should be very close to the production version. In other words, this prototype type is more like the first production unit than it is to being prototype. It is believed that having a plane that is very close to what the production version will speed up testing and reduce the overall time that it will takes the B-21 to achieve initial operating capability (IOC).

Of course the B-21 will incorporate the latest and greatest electronics capabilities, including utilizing open architecture , Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) compatible systems that will allow the bomber to connect with sensors and shooters across all domains, among other breakthroughs.

The projected cost is supposed to be capped at $729.25 million per unit in current dollars. However, the way procurement works in today's defense department the $729.25 million dollars is best viewed as being the minimum cost as unforeseen new critical capabilities are certain to be discovered and added to the base cost long before 2030 when IOC is expected for the Air Force's super high tech bomber.

When the program kicked off in 2015, USAF general Mark Welsh said 80–100 of the bombers should be operational by the mid 2020s. Conversely, the Congressional Research Service estimated that the B-3/B-21 would achieve IOC on 2030. Clearly , the CRS, as is usually the case, was much more accurate than the Air Force.

For a high-level overview of the B-21 Raider:

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