Apparently not, according to Northrop Grumman. First teased to the American public in 2015, the latest stealth aircraft the B-21 “Raider” is an entirely new aircraft.
On 2 December, aircraft 001, also referred to as T1, was unveiled at Northrop Grumman’s production facilities in Palmdale, California, USA.
The B-21 is named “Raider” in honour of the Doolittle Raiders. In WWII, Lt. Col. James ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle, together with 80 men, flying 16 B-25 Mitchell twin-engine bombers, set off on a mission from an aircraft carrier in the Pacific to attack the Japanese. This was America’s first strike at the Japanese since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941.
“The B-21 Raider defines a new era in technology and strengthens America’s role of delivering peace through deterrence”, said Northrop CEO Kathy Warden.
“With the B-21, the U.S. Air Force will be able to deter or defeat threats anywhere in the world,” said Tom Jones, corporate vice president and president, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems.
The U.S. Air Force began planning for the B-21 under the long range strike bomber (LRS-B) program in 2011.
The B-21 is to be a long-range, intercontinental strategic bomber, that will be able to deliver conventional and thermo-nuclear weapons to targets anywhere on the planet. The present B-2 Spirit is very expensive to build and operate and the B-1 is now getting on in age. It is envisaged that the B-21 will complement these types and eventually replace them.
The B-52 Stratofortress will work alongside the B-21, as this aircraft is presently being re-engined to remain in service for the next two decades or more.
According to Northrop Grumman, the B-21 offers much longer range than the B-2.
The B-21’s technical details and specifications remain highly classified, however in 2016, Northrop’s Chris Bogdan, said the B-21’s engines would be similar to the F-35’s P&W F135 engine to reduce cost.
In February 2016, the U.S. Global Strike Command placed an initial order for 100 B-21s. The U.S is expected to build up to a full fleet of 175 to 200 aircraft.
The cost of a B-21 is estimated to be USD700 million per aircraft. Air Force officials estimated that they would spend at least USD203 billion over the next 30 years to develop, purchase, and operate a fleet of 100 B-21s.
Here are some notable differences and facts:
- The B-21 has roots from the B-2, taking low observable (LO) stealth technology to another level.
- The aircraft is notably smaller than the B-2.
- The landing gear is a single truck design with two tyres on each main gear instead of four like the B2.
- The nose wheel door is different from B-2\s, without the serrated edges.
- There is no central, forward entry door. All associated doors open to the side.
- The windscreen is remarkably small, with visibility optimised for viewing upward and forward.
- The side small windows are small and curved.
- The aircraft is a very light grey colour for reduced visibility.
Northrop Grumman released the following details:
- Sixth Generation. The B-21 Raider is optimised for the high-end threat environment.
- The B-21 has new manufacturing techniques and materials to enable the latest in stealth technology.
- The B-21 Raider will be capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads, with the ability to use a broad mix of stand-off and direct attack munitions packages.
- The B-21 is a Digital Bomber, capable of networking to multiple systems, supported by a digital ecosystem.
- Using Cloud Technology, the B-21 will be more maintainable and sustainable with a lower-cost infrastructure.
- Open Architecture. The B-21 will not undergo block upgrades, but will rather use new technology to enhance and upgrade its capabilities and weapons to outpace future threats.
The B-21 team includes more than 8,000 people, with more than 400 suppliers across 40 states in the U.S.
Five other B21 aircraft are known to be in various stages of construction, with the first
flight expected in 2023.
(Source: Northrop Grumman)