Five Next Gen. American B-21 Stealth Bombers Could Roll Off Production Lines By Year’s End

U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has revealed that five new B-21 stealth bombers are being built by defence contractor Northrop Grumman, and not two as previously reported. The strategic intercontinental range aircraft are being built at Northrop’s plant in Palmdale California plant, with their first flight having been delayed to 2022. 

Speaking at the plant in September 20th, Kendall stated: “We have been living off of bomber fleet investments made many decades ago, but that is rapidly changing. As I speak there are now five test aircraft being manufactured on the B-21 production line at Air Force Plant 42.” “You will never hear me make optimistic predictions about programmes. 

All programmes have risk and the same is true of the B-21, but at this point at least, the programme is making good progress to real fielded capacity,” he elaborated. The B-21 is expected to replace the B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers in frontline service, as well as to form many new bomber squadrons as the Air Force seeks to expand its fleet. 

The bombers will cost approximately $631 million per airframe, making them less than a third the cost of the B-2, although it is uncertain if this figure includes the new bomber’s research and development costs. The fleet size is expected to be over 200 aircraft, although some estimates have been more conservative. 

The first aircraft are expected to enter service around the year 2027, and are being built with operations in the Pacific Theatre in mind and particularly to penetrate heavily fortified Chinese airspace. Competing programs abroad include China’s H-20 and the Russian PAK DA, with all three are expected to enter service before 2030 and revolutionise the three countries’ intercontinental range strike capabilities. 

The B-21 is the first Western bomber to enter production since the 1990s, and is currently being produced alongside the Chinese H-6 medium range bomber, the intercontinental range Russian Tu-160, and possibly the H-20 which is reported by some sources to have begun production. 

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