After years of secret development, America’s newest high-tech nuclear stealth bomber makes its debut.
The B-21 strike aircraft will be able to deliver conventional and nuclear weapons around the world using long-range and aerial refueling capabilities, part of the Pentagon’s response to growing concerns about a future conflict with China.
It was the first new American bomber in more than 30 years.
The bomber was unveiled at an event at U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, where six aircraft are already in various stages of assembly.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: “This is not just another plane.
“It’s a testament to America’s determination to defend the republic we all love … we’ll soon be flying this aircraft, testing it, and putting it into production,” he said.
Each aircraft has a similar “flying wing” shape to its predecessor, the B-2, and is expected to cost about $729.25 million.
The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 aircraft and begin replacing B-1 and B-2 bombers. Nearly every aspect of the program is confidential.
The plane is part of the Pentagon’s effort to modernize all three parts of its nuclear triad — which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched warheads — as it shifts from counterterrorism operations in recent decades to satisfy China’s rapid military modernization.
By 2035, China is expected to have 1,500 nuclear weapons.
The Pentagon said this week in its annual China report that Beijing’s advances in hypersonic, cyber warfare and space capabilities “pose the most significant and systemic challenges to U.S. national security and the free and open international system.”
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Deborah Lee James, the Air Force secretary when the Raider contract was announced in 2015, said: “We need a new bomber fit for the 21st century that will allow us to deal with more sophisticated threats like the ones we fear we will encounter. The threats come from the sky faces of China and Russia.”
Kathy Worden, chief executive of Northrop Grumman, which is building the bomber, said the B-21 was “extremely advanced” compared to the B-2, with advances in its computer capabilities and coating materials making it “harder to detect”.
Other developments include new ways to control electronic emissions — meaning bombers can confuse adversaries’ radars and disguise themselves as another object, several defense analysts said.