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America's New Stealth Bomber, the B-21 Raider, Has Arrived at the Perfect Time

On the morning of November 10th, my eyes shot open to the sound of an aircraft engine louder than I had ever heard before. Excitedly, I hoped that what I was rudely awoken by was the first flight of the B-21 raider — and I was right.


The Northrop Grumman B-21 is a feat of modern engineering, evidence that the U.S.’s military and innovative superiority will endure for years to come. The world's first sixth-generation military aircraft will be capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons deeper into enemy territory than its predecessors. The long-range strategic stealth bomber is said to have the radar cross-section of a bumblebee, making it essentially undetectable to even the most advanced defense systems on Earth.


Its predecessor, the B-2 stealth bomber, entered service in 1997, but each one cost over a billion dollars. While the B-2 is a marvel of engineering, its prohibitive price tag and maintenance meant only 21 were ever produced.


It entered service in the post-Cold War era when America had shifted its focus from large-scale combat operations to counter-insurgency. Counter-insurgencies are less demanding of airpower. Insurgencies seldom have an air force or formidable air defenses. The small B-2 fleet size was sufficient for American power projection, but things have changed.


Around 2010, the U.S. military shifted focus back to large-scale combat operations, due to the return of “multipolarity,” or great power rivalry. Russia and China are the military’s biggest concerns.


However, most militaries have updated their radar and air defenses in the past decades. So, in 2015, the U.S. military decided to pursue an innovative solution.

It commissioned a new, long-range strategic stealth bomber. Northrop Grumman beat out the Boeing-Lockheed Martin Collaboration in the contract bid, with the military stating that cost was the deciding factor.


The B-21 will be much more cost-effective than the B-2. Not only in its cheaper price tag, of 692 million dollars per unit but also its ability to be modularly upgraded. It was designed with longevity in mind, meaning there are components of the aircraft that can be easily switched out once obsolete.


This ability to constantly upgrade is called an “open architecture,” an unprecedented step in military aviation.


Another innovative step is the ability for the aircraft to serve simultaneously as an electronic communications and reconnaissance node, with its own digital cloud which can relay information thousands of miles away. The B-21 can carry and launch stealth drones used for high-risk strike or reconnaissance missions. Finally, it is rumored that the B-21 can be used in both manned and unmanned operations.

With this adaptability, tech and cost-efficiency, the B-21s are expected to replace the famous B-2 stealth bombers in service by 2040.


Some may criticize the purchase of the B-21, claiming that the U.S. military is by far the most advanced and capable fighting force in the world. This is just another expensive program adding to the nearly trillion dollar per year government military spending. The B-2 and the B-1, while dated and very expensive to maintain, have for years filled the role the B-21 looks to take on.


However, the United States is not alone in its endeavor for renewed air superiority.

China has released plans for a similar long range strategic stealth bomber program, the Xi’an H-20. Russia, too, has revealed its intention to produce a next-generation stealth bomber, the PAK DA.


Both resemble the B-21 in shape and size, with obvious specification differences, yet look to offer the same capacity. It seems China is likely to have a functional prototype before Russia, as there is no news on the development of Russia’s program. The H-20 is claimed by state media to have its first flight soon.


The B-21 is the first step into a new epoch of military aviation. Its stealth technology, streamlined and upgradable design and digital components are all innovations that will provide unprecedented deterrence and flexibility for future operations. The B-21 fleet will surely provide many decades of operational capacity and deterrence.

In a world of rising tension, the B-21 has arrived at the perfect time.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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