Construction has begun on the first B-21 at Northrop’s Air Force Plant 42 factory near Palmdale, California, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told an audience at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies on July 9.
“We’re closely monitoring the build of the additional test aircraft and associated software to support the first flight,” Goldfein said, Warrior Maven reported.
The B-21 will replace the Air Force’s aging B-2 Spirit, the first true stealth bomber, which was unveiled in 1989 and entered service in 1997. The Raider sports the same “flying wing” design as its predecessor - a shape that, along with a high-tech anti-radar coating, gives the plane a very low radar profile. That will help it sneak into enemy territory undetected to deliver either conventional or nuclear weapons, then escape again unscathed - and perhaps even unknown.
With a projected cost of roughly $656 million per plane, that kind of invulnerability becomes financially necessary. However, the Raiders will have to look out for new tricks like the high-frequency surface wave radar (HFSWR) being pioneered by China, which boasts it can detect stealth aircraft.
“Because modern stealth aircraft, like the US’ F-35 and F-22, or China’s J-20 and J-31, were designed to hide from the predominantly-used microwave radar systems, they have zero protection from long-wave radars,” Sputnik reported last month, citing Liu Yongtan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering.
The first B-21s are expected to enter service in 2025, although the Air Force will continue to operate its 20 B-2s until 2032. The Air Force plans to acquire up to 100 B-21s.
“The LRSO will provide a cost-effective, force multiplier for our nuclear bombers,” Goldfein said. “It is on schedule to achieve initial operating capability in 2030.”