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The B-21 Raider: America's Newest Bomber

The world's first sixth-generation aircraft has taken its first flight. Designed for greater longevity, capability and upgradability than the B-2, the long-range strategic stealth bomber is expected to enter service around 2027.

American military aviation has entered a new age. The B-21 Raider is, according to its manufacturer Northrop Grumman, the world's first sixth-generation aircraft. (Essentially, it’s significantly more technologically advanced than other aircraft currently in use.)

The Raider is a cost-efficient and innovative step toward the future. After years of secretive development, it took its first flight on Nov. 10, 2023. 

It is intended to replace both the famous B-2 stealth bomber and the supersonic B-1, with the target year for the completion of this process being set at 2040. There is also an intent to eventually replace the fleet of relic B-52s — which has been in service since 1955 — with the B-21 if possible.

Each B-21 will cost an estimated $692 million. That’s a massive investment but is much cheaper than the B-21’s predecessor, the B-2, which costs upwards of one billion dollars per unit. The B-21 also has been said to have a modular electronics system, allowing for easier upgrades and adaptation to change in the mission objective. 

In recent years, the military has signaled intent to shift from COIN operations (counter-insurgency) to LSCO (large-scale combat operations). This is to prepare for a potential conflict with a conventional fighting force like that of Iran, North Korea, Russia or China.

Part of this shift includes updating offensive air capabilities. As modern air defense systems in these nations became more effective at detecting current-era stealth aircraft, the military needed a solution. In 2015 the US Air Force granted a contract for a new long-range stealth bomber to Northrop Grumman.

Despite the aircraft’s specifications remaining classified, it is estimated to be capable of flying nearly 6,835 miles without refueling, surpassing the range of the B-2 by more than 800 miles.

It is designed to deliver both nuclear and conventional weapons systems. It will likely not be supersonic, as the focus in design is on stealth, fuel efficiency and range. 

With the testing phase soon to begin at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the date for entrance into the service is estimated to be around 2027. Once commissioned, the bomber will be stationed on bases in South Dakota and Missouri.

These bases, while far from any coast, will offer protection for the newly commissioned aircraft. If needed, the B-21 could take off from its bases in the Midwest and be refueled midway to a target anywhere in the world. 

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