The US Air Force (USAF) released a rendering of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber, that it plans to fly by next year and plans are in place to incrementally replace the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit bombers to form a two-bomber fleet of B-21s and modified B-52s in the long run for which it is estimated US Air Force could require 200 B-21 Stealth Bombers in next 20 years.

B-2 heavy strategic bomber featuring low observable stealth technology started with a requirement of 132 units by the airforce but when the average per-unit cost was US$737 million in fly-away condition, finally units procured was only 22 units that lead to even higher production cost in the later stage when the program included development, engineering, and testing costs, per unit cost average at US$2 Billion. To ensure that the B-21 Stealth Bomber program doesn’t suffer the B-2 program fate, USAF has installed checks and balances that will ensure that unit cost will remain low and has hinted at the possibility of exporting it to its closes allies.

American bomber export has been unheard of in recent times as it has always remained exclusive to the US Air Force but Northrop Grumman has estimated that each per average unit cost will be around $639 million each that includes its development, engineering, and testing costs. China, Russia, and the United States are only three world powers that have low observable stealth heavy strategic bomber programs under development that all will become operational by 2030.

Indian Navy in the late ’90s had desired to take on a long term lease 4 Russian Tu-22M medium-weight bombers for operations in the Indian Ocean that due to high cost was further reduced to just two units but that too never materialized due to high operating cost and a large chunk of money that Russians wanted for upgrades and modernization of this jets and also that Indian Air Force (IAF) was not so supportive of Indian Navy plans of operating bombers.

Indian Navy later went on to acquire American P-8I Maritime Patrol aircraft to replace its aging Soviet-era Tu-142 Maritime Patrol aircraft that features a powerful sensor suite and continue to pose a threat to Chinese naval assets in a region but it doesn’t bring in massive offensive deep strike capability that Tu-22M could have brought in the region.

$108 million per unit cost spend on the procurement of each Dassault Rafale till now is India’s single-most expensive piece of aviation asset that has been procured by the country and outright purchase of B-21 Raider stealth bomber even with its price tag of $639 million unit cost will mean at best it will be able to afford to procure a handful of them.

Indigenous alternative bombers might come in unmanned combat vehicle programs like Ghatak but this won’t bolster Indian nuclear deterrent in the region nor can come as a booster to India’s capability to patrol and deep strike targets far away from its coastline in the vast Indian ocean that has been constantly challenged by China. India eventually will require either a low observable stealth Heavy Combat Aircraft in Sukhoi-30 Class for its Indian Ocean operations or a dedicated stealth bomber aircraft that will be in a similar class of low observable stealth bombers that are been developed.

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Article by SATYAJEET KUMAR ,  cannot be republished Partially or Full without consent from Writer or