With just 158 aircraft in its bomber fleet and no plane younger than 21 years of age, the US Air Force has struggled to keep enough aircraft available for missions in the event of a major war. A top US Air Force official told lawmakers on Tuesday that the first two B-21 Raider stealth bombers have been completed by Northrop Grumman and will soon be available for testing. The flying wing-shaped aircraft is styled much like the B-2 Spirit it is intended to replace.
Darlene Costello, the Air Force’s Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that Northrop Grumman had finished building the first two models of the B-21 at its Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, according to The War Zone.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Air Force said the plane was expected to fly for the first time in December 2021, but that has now been pushed back into 2022.
While years of testing await the new aircraft, once adopted the jets will be based first at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, then at both Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. The service expects to buy 100 B-21s for the prices of $550 million each.
The B-21s will first begin to replace the aging B-1B Lancer fleet, which is overworked and under-maintained. However, Costello said Tuesday that no more Lancers would be retired after the 17 already in the process of being put out to pasture until the first Raiders are delivered later in the decade. The bomber is expected to reach initial operational capability (IOC) by 2030, and will carry nuclear weapons, including the forthcoming Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) cruise missile.
Eventually, the Raiders will replace the 20 B-2 Spirits as well, on which it is heavily based. Observers also anticipate getting to see China’s forthcoming stealth bomber sometime this year, as well. Little is known about the H-20, except that it is being built by Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation and that, as per a January 2021 promotional video, it has a flying wing design very similar to the B-2 and B-21.