Sixth Generation Long Range Strategic Stealth Bomber
United States | 2028
"Born from the USAF LRS-B strike platform initiative, the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider was unveiled in a December 2022 rollout ceremony."
Power & Performance Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Northrop Grumman B-21A Sixth Generation Long Range Strategic Stealth Bomber.
(Assumed): 2 x Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines developing over 15,000lb of thrust each (estimated). Propulsion
621 mph 1,000 kph | 540 kts Max Speed
49,213 ft 15,000 m | 9 miles Service Ceiling
6,835 miles 11,000 km | 5,940 nm Operational Range
Structure The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Northrop Grumman B-21A Sixth Generation Long Range Strategic Stealth Bomber.
2 (MANNED) Crew
65.6 ft 20.00 m O/A Length
164.0 ft (50.00 m) O/A Width
16.4 ft (5.00 m) O/A Height
154,324 lb (70,000 kg) Empty Weight
374,786 lb (170,000 kg) MTOW
Armament Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider Sixth Generation Long Range Strategic Stealth Bomber .
Assumed internal weapons bay supporting up to 50,000lb of ordnance (conventional drop bombs and precision-guided bombs) including nuclear-tipped bombs/missiles.
Variants Notable series variants as part of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider family line.
B-21 - Official Series Designation applied in February of 2016.
LRS-B ("Long Range Strike - Bomber") - Project Name
The Northrop Grumman B-21 "Raider" is the latest addition to the United States Air Force's attack arsenal and a successor to the B-2A "Spirit" stealth bomber of the 1990s. It represents the company's most important project since the Spirit was first launched and is the world's first - and only - Sixth Generation bomber aircraft offering. The designation of "B-21" was applied on officially announced February 26th, 2016 after which artist renderings appeared to show a bomber form not unlike the previous entry.
The 6th Gen bomber's "Raider" moniker is derived from the daring World War II "Doolittle" raid against the heart of the Empire of Japan involving the North American B-25 "Mitchell" medium bomber and eighty airmen.
Expensive, though potent, bomber fleets in the modern age are few and far between with fewer than a handful of global services supporting the type: United States, Russia, China, and North Korea.
The aircraft is designed as a deterrence-minded stealth penetrator, capable of entering enemy airspaces and attacking through a potent conventional or nuclear war load with minimal detection. It joins other advanced aircraft types in the USAF inventory that includes the Lockheed F-22 "Raptor" air dominace fighter and F-35 "Lightning II" strike fighter entries - a triad unmatched anywhere in the world.
The design was born from the USAF's "Long Range Strike - Bomber" (LRS-B) program (succeeding the earlier, eventually-cancelled "Next-Generation Bomber" program) that involved proposals from defense powerhouses Boeing / Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The development contract was awarded on October 27th, 2015 with Northrop coming out on top.
As of this writing (2022), the B-21 is expected to enter service in the latter half of the 2020s with an initial target fleet of 100 airframes. These will be used, at least initially, alongside aging platforms such as the Boeing B-52 "Stratofortress", the Rockwell B-1 "Lancer", and Northrop's own B-2A before directly succeeding all three in service in the strategic bomber role.
The USAF's Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) is heading the initiative and the partners list includes Pratt & Whitney (engines), BAe Systems (electronics), GKN Aerospace (metals and composites), Janicki Industries (composites and tooling), Orbital ATK (wing skins and nacelles), Spirit Aerosystems (metals and composites), and Rockwell Collins (communications). Northrop Grumman will provide the onboard radar fit.
Base on the rollout ceremony's reveal, the B-21 has an "all-wing" planform not unlike the B-2A though incorporating all proven, and some new, stealth technologies into its design. The flight crew numbers two and the team is seated at the apex of the "arrow" shape along the arrowhead-like planform. All major compartments are situated at the center mass of the aircraft whose fuselage is blended into the wings to promote a very-low-profile when viewed in profile. As with the B-2A, the engines will be housed in the rear in a side-by-side, embedded arrangement with its exhaust protected as much as possible from IR locators. A conventional, multi-wheeled retractable tricycle undercarriage will be used for ground-running.
While an unmanned option has been mentioned in regards to the new bomber, this initiative appears to no longer be in play. However, the concept of having the bomber network with allied drones may remain a real possibility. At the very least, modularity is at the heart of the new bomber design, allowing for rapid upgrading of software and systems while streamlining the (eventual) modernization process. A digital infrastructure forms the framework of the B-21's data transfer / data-sharing to a cloud environment - providing critical mission information to a complete network.
Compared to the B-2A, the B-21 has a longer "beak" like nose and the nose leg appears to sit further aft with main legs given fewer wheel bogies. Externally, the cockpit is detailed with two windscreens (as opposed to four as seen in the B-2A) and indicates a side-by-side seating arrangement for the two pilots. The engine inlets/intakes are slimmer and integrated closer to the center mass of the fuselage, reducing the overall length of the fuselage itself (as well as its height). Attention is being paid to medium- / higher-altitude flight controlling by implementation of a simplified wing along the leading edges and "sawtooth" trailing edges.
Overall dimensions appear to indicate a smaller overall bomber form when compared to the relatively large B-2A.
At least six airframes were known to be under construction in early 2022 with hundreds of suppliers found in no fewer than forty states. A first-flight is expected for some time in 2023.
September 2016 - The name of "Raider" has been assigned to the B-21 by the USAF. It is in honor of the "Doolittle Raiders" of World War 2. The service seeks to purchase 100 B-21s at a cost of $564 million per aircraft.
March 2017 - It was announced that the B-21 had passed a pair of preliminary design reviews.
November 2017 - Requirements of the B-21 product, and its basic design, have been completed.
June 2018 - The B-21's Critical Design Review (CDR) is slated for completion before the end of 2018. The CDR phase precedes the component manufacturing step required to produce a flyable prototype.
October 2019 - The first B-21 airframe is under construction by Northrop Grumman out of the company's Palmdale, California facility. A first-flight is tentatively scheduled for December 2021.
February 2020 - New USAF renderings depict the soon-to-be B-21 Raider stealth bomber in hangar at Whiteman AFB.
August 2020 - The first B-21 test aircraft is entering final assembly. A first-flight is tentatively scheduled for sometime in 2022 with deliveries to occur sometime in the middle of the decade at the earliest.
August 2020 - The B-21 avionics testbed has been announced as operational.
January 2021 - First-flight of the B-21 Raider prototype has been delayed from December 2021 until the middle of 2022.
June 2021 - Ellsworth Air Force Base has been selected as the first operational base to feature the new USAF B-21 stealth bomber.
September 2021 - The USAF has revealed that five test-minded B-21 airframes are currently under construction by Northrop Grumman, these examples nearing final assembly.
March 2022 - The initial B-21 airframe has begun ground testing. Official rollout and first-flight might occur before the end of the year.
May 2022 - The USAF expects to officially rollout the B-21 Raider bomber in 2022 with a first-flight tentatively planned for 2023.
May 2022 - Development delays have led to the USAF officially pushing the B-21's first-flight into 2023.
December 2022 - The B-21 was formally showcased in a highly-publicized roll-out ceremony by Northrop Grumman.
November 2023 - The B-21 completed its first-flight on November 10th, 2023.
Operators Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.
Total Production: 1 Units Contractor(s): Northrop Grumman - USA
[ United States (planned) ]
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Image from the United States Air Force; Public Release.
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Official artist rendering of the B-21 Stealth Bomber.
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Official artist rendering of the B-21 Stealth Bomber.
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Image from official Northrop Grumman marketing materials.
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