America’s new stealth nuclear bomber debuted on Friday after years of secret development and is part of the Pentagon’s response to growing concerns over a future conflict with China.
The B-21 Raider was the first new American bomber in more than 30 years. Almost all aspects of the program are classified.
As the wreath fell on Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, the public watched Ryder in a very controlled ceremony. It began with a flyby of three bombers still in service: the B-52 Stratfords, the B-1 Lancer, and the B-2 Spirit. The hinged doors slowly opened, and the B-21 pulled partially out of the building.
The bombing is part of the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize all three arms of its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched warheads, as China moves from counterterrorism campaigns of the past decades to rapid military modernization.
China is on track to have 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035, and its achievements in hypersonic weapons, cyberwarfare, space capabilities and other areas pose “the most significant systemic challenge to U.S. national security and a free and open international system,” the Pentagon said in its annual report on China this week. .
“We needed a new bomber for the 21st century,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said when the Raider contract was announced.
While the Raider may look like a B-2 on the outside, inside, the similarities disappear, says Northrop Grumman Corp., the maker of the Raider. said Cathy Wharton, CEO of
“Compared to the B-2 the way it works internally is much more advanced because the technology has come a long way in terms of computing power, which we can now incorporate into the B-21 software,” Wharton added.
Other changes include improved materials used in skins to make explosives harder to detect, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
“Fifty years of advances in low-detection technology have gone into this plane,” Austin said. “Even the most sophisticated air defense systems would have a hard time detecting a B-21 in the sky.”
Other advances could include new ways to control electronic emissions so the bomber can disguise itself as another object to evade enemy radars, and use new propulsion technologies, several defense analysts said.
“It’s incredibly unwatchable,” Wharton said. “They’ll hear it, but they won’t see it.”
There are six riders in the production. The Air Force plans to build 100 that can deploy nuclear weapons or conventional bombs and can be deployed with or without a manned crew.
The cost of the bombers is unknown. The Air Force estimates each averaged $550 million in 2010 — about $753 million today — but it’s unclear how much is actually being spent. The total depends on how many bombers the Pentagon buys.
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