The US Air Force has conducted a weapon system critical design review (CDR) of the next-generation B-21 Raider long-range strike bomber. The central question of the Pentagon’s CDR process is determining whether a program is mature enough to dive into the deep end of full-scale fabrication and testing. During the CDR the USAF assessed whether the bomber’s design is stable and mature. Run by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the B-21 Raider programme entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase nearly three years ago. One can infer from this news that the CDR confirmed the Air Force’s stated $550 million per Raider price tag. A Congressional Research Service report issued in October said the defense appropriate bill allocated $2.31 billion in the fiscal year 2019 budget for B-21 development.
The B-21 Raider stealth strategic bomber programme executive officer Randall Walden added: “This critical design event is key to maturing the design of the new bomber and to identifying risks that are consistent with all large acquisition programmes across the DoD. “We are excited about where the programme is today and we’re looking ahead to actively manage the programme to first flight.” US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said: “The B-21 Raider programme is on the right track to make continued progress over the next few years as it now transitions from the design phase into a robust manufacturing phase that will ultimately produce our first B-21 test aircraft.”
The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is a heavy bomber under development by Northrop Grumman. As part of the Long Range Strike Bomber program (LRS-B), it is to be a very long-range, stealth strategic bomber for the United States Air Force capable of delivering conventional and thermonuclear weapons. The B-21 will carry conventional and nuclear weapons on penetration missions that can duck advanced air defenses. The Raider is projected to enter service in the 2020s with an initial fleet of 100 aircraft. It is to complement existing Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber fleets in U.S. service and eventually replace these bombers.
Northrop Grumman’s facility in Melbourne, Florida, US, is serving as the design and development headquarters for the aircraft. In a separate development, the USAF has granted approval to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center to move the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb’s new guided tail-kit assembly into the next phase for production. In late November, the Air Force announced that Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, will coordinate maintenance and sustainment of the B-21 Raider. Edwards AFB, California, will lead testing and evaluation.