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The B-21 Raider’s First Flight Has Slipped to 2023

Photo credit: Northrop Grumman
Photo credit: Northrop Grumman
  • The Air Force’s B-21 Raider is now anticipated to fly sometime in 2023.

  • The date is more than a year later than originally projected.

  • Despite the delay, the B-21 program has proceeded reasonably well, with the bomber currently on budget.

The U.S. Air Force now says its new B-21 Raider bomber will fly in 2023, more than a year later than early estimates, according to Air Force Magazine.

The B-21, the Air Force’s first new heavy strategic bomber in more than three decades, was originally forecast to fly in late 2021, then the date slipped into 2022, and now 2023. Despite the delay, the aircraft is reasonably on track and has stayed within its budget—a modern miracle for expensive defense programs.

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In the meantime, the public should catch its first glimpse of the B-21 sometime this summer. The Air Force and defense contractor Northrop Grumman plan to roll out the B-21 in 2022 and another Air Force Times article previously indicated that it would take place in the middle of the year.

In some ways, the B-21 will be a familiar sight; publicly-released renderings (pictured above) show it strongly resembling a B-2A Spirit bomber, though with a simplified wing configuration. The resemblance is entirely due to the aircraft’s need to be stealthy in all aspects, and the same principles of radar evasion from the 1980s, when the B-2A was developed, still hold today.

The B-21 Raider is named after Doolittle’s Raiders, the group of bomber pilots that took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in 1942 and bombed Japan in a surprise attack. In addition to honoring the famed airmen, the name is also a nod to one of the bomber’s main operating theaters, the Pacific Ocean. The B-21 will be a major asset in any conventional war with China, flying long distances and unleashing long-range cruise missiles against enemy targets. The B-21’s range will enable it to strike China itself if necessary.

In addition to the conventional mission, the B-21 will also fly with nuclear weapons, acting as one leg of the U.S. nuclear triad. The B-21 will carry the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb and the AGM-86B nuclear cruise missile.

Photo credit: CHANDAN KHANNA - Getty Images
Photo credit: CHANDAN KHANNA - Getty Images

While the B-21’s first flight may have slipped, its budget has not. The bomber remains, by all accounts, on track cost-wise despite the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues that have bedeviled other programs. Other recently produced aircraft, such as the KC-46 Pegasus tanker and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, have seen their budgets bloat by billions of dollars. This is all the more remarkable considering the B-21 is a newly-designed combat aircraft with stealth as a major feature—a pairing that in the past has practically guaranteed fiscal pain.

The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 B-21s, though the service would prefer something on the order of 200 overall.

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