The U.S. Air Force announced today the B-21 Raider has commenced engine runs as part of its ground test program at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California, facility. Engine testing is an essential milestone for the program as the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft continues on the path to flight test. The B-21’s first flight will remain a data driven event that is monitored by Northrop Grumman and the United States Air Force. Developed with the next generation of stealth technology, advanced networking capabilities and open systems architecture, the B-21 Raider will serve as the backbone of Am.erica’s bomber fleet. The B-21 Raider’s primary mission is to replace aging strategic bombers in the U.S. Air Force’s inventory.
The B-21 Raider is designed to be a long-range, stealth intercontinental strategic bomber, equipped to deliver both conventional and thermonuclear weapons. While many of its technical specifications remain highly classified, the program has gradually unveiled certain aspects since its inception in 2011. n December 2022, the world got its first glimpse of this cutting-edge aircraft during a rollout ceremony at Northrop Grumman’s production facilities in Palmdale, California. The journey of the B-21 Raider began with planning in 2011, culminating in the award of a major development contract in 2015 and is slated to enter active service by 2027. By 2040, it is anticipated to phase out the 45 B-1 strategic bombers from the 1980s and the 20 B-2 strategic bombers from the 1990s.
Maintenance and sustainment of the B-21 Raider will be managed by Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, with testing and evaluation spearheaded by Edwards Air Force Base, California. The aircraft is expected to operate from bases that currently host heavy bombers, including Dyess Air Force Base, Texas; Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota; and Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Ellsworth, in particular, was chosen as the host for the first operational B-21 unit and the inaugural training unit in March 2019.To ensure the B-21 Raider’s success in penetrating enemy territory and surviving hostile air defenses, the USAF is planning to acquire a new long-range fighter from the Next Generation Air Dominance program, referred to as the F-X or “Penetrating Counter-Air.”
Beyond American borders, there is significant interest in the B-21 Raider’s capabilities. In December 2022, an Australian Strategic Policy Institute report recommended the acquisition of B-21 Raiders to enhance Australia’s long-range strike capabilities. The report highlighted the B-21’s impressive range, munition capacity, and ability to operate from secure air bases in Australia’s south. During bilateral talks in August 2022, there were discussions about the possibility of the U.S. allowing Australia to procure the B-21 Raider. While such discussions were held, the Australian government’s Defense Strategic Review in April 2023 ultimately determined that the B-21 was not a suitable acquisition option.