B-21 Raider: The Cheap Stealth Bomber the U.S. Air Force Desperately Needs

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Summary: The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider, set to replace the B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit, will be the world’s most advanced bomber when it enters service.

-The U.S. Air Force plans to acquire 132 units.

-To keep costs in check, the B-21’s Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) phase began in January, with Northrop Grumman anticipating initial financial losses to avoid budget overruns.

-The B-21 Raider bomber per-unit cost is estimated at $750 million, significantly less than the B-2. Six prototypes are in production, employing lessons learned to ensure repeatability and quality.

B-21 Raider: The Future of U.S. Strategic Bombing

The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider long-range strategic bomber will almost certainly be the most advanced in the world when it enters service later this decade, replacing the Rockwell B-1B Lancer and Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit while operating alongside the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. The United States Air Force currently calls for plans to procure 132 of the aircraft, which will serve as the backbone of the bomber fleet.

While it will be the most advanced bomber, great efforts are now underway to ensure it won’t be the most expensive.

LRIP Underway for B-21 

In January, the Raider program entered its Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP). Northrop Grumman has announced it expected to lose money during the LRIP, as part of efforts to keep the costs of the bomber in check.

In fact, the B-21 program was even mapped out to avoid a Nunn-McCurdy Act breach that is signaled whenever a Pentagon program reaches “out-of-control” development costs. Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, it allows lawmakers to better maintain the cost of Major Defense Acquisition Programs, and requires the Department of Defense (DoD) to inform lawmakers if a program is on track to incur a cost or schedule overrun of more than 15%.

That isn’t likely to be the case with the B-21 Raider.

According to analysis from international analytic firm GlobalData, the per unit cost of the B-21 Raider – adjusted for inflation – is now estimated to be around $750 million. That is significantly less than the $2 billion per unit cost of the U.S. Air Force’s B-2 bombers. One issue was that the Spirit program was cut short, with just 20 aircraft produced, which resulted in the research and development costs being spread across fewer airframes.

As Air Force Technology reported, “Economies of scale and improvements in stealth coating for reduced maintenance demands have helped to draw down per unit costs, although the exact figures are held in strict secrecy by the US military.”

Ongoing Efforts to Keep the Costs Down

As previously reported, the B-21 Raider made its maiden flight last November and flight tests continue. At least six prototypes are now in various stages of production and will be used for further testing. More importantly, those prototype aircraft are also being built on the same lines, using the same tools and processes that would build the eventual production aircraft. That approach has enabled production engineers and technicians to capture lessons learned and apply them directly to follow-on aircraft, driving home a focus on repeatability, producibility, and quality.

B-21 Raider

In addition, the B-21 Raider was developed with state-of-the-art technology and capabilities, while Air Force officials have further emphasized the focus on containing costs while simultaneously allowing for maximum flexibility. The B-21 has been noted for being designed with an open systems architecture that would enable rapid future capability integration to keep pace with the highly contested threat environment.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: Editor@nationalinterest.org.

All images are Creative Commons. 

Источник: nationalinterest.org

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