The Secretary of the US Air Force, Frank Kendall, has confirmed that five Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber test aircrafts are now taking shape at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.
Kendall made this announcement during the Air Force Association Air, Space, and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on September 21. These aircraft are part of the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) batch, funded under the Long-Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) contract.
“As I speak, there are now five test aircraft being manufactured on the B-21 production line at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. This investment in meaningful military capabilities that project power and hold targets at risk anywhere in the world addresses my No. 1 priority,” said Kendall, referring to Air and Space Forces’ ability to continuously deter and defeat threats.
In January, it was confirmed that two B-21 test aircraft were making their way down the production line at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale. According to Doug Young, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s Strike Division, this significant progress can be credited to a strong customer partnership, early application of digital tools, and a talented, dedicated workforce.
The USAF expects the B-21 to enter service at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota sometime in the mid-2020s, followed by Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.
The B-21 heavy stealth bombers will join the USAF’s B-1B Lancer, B-2 Spirit, and B-52 Stratofortress fleets around 2027 and eventually replace them as a Long-Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B). B-12’s advanced design will also allow it to handle intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic attack, command center, and other missions.
However, there is no information about the completion of construction of the first B-21, whose final design is still unknown. Kendall has confirmed that five prototypes of a fleet that will one day number between 100 and 200 US$550-million B-21 bombers are being assembled, which would begin operating in the mid-2020s.
“With the capability to hold targets at risk anywhere in the world, this weapon system is critical to our national security,” said Young. “Northrop Grumman is committed to delivering the B-21 Raider to the warfighter on time to ensure America can project its power globally for decades to come.”