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B-21 Raider Gearing Up to Replace the B1 and B2 Bombers

Following its official introduction on December 2, 2022, the B-21 Raider commenced flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base and is making progress towards being the mainstay of the U.S. Air Force bomber fleet.

During testimony at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, highlighted that B-21 flight testing is on track to meet timelines and deliver to the warfighter on 8 May.

“We are in the flight test program, the flight test program is proceeding well,” Hunter said in response to a question about the B-21 program. “It is doing what flight test programs are designed to do, which is helping us learn about the unique characteristics of this platform, but in a very, very effective way.”

The B-21 Raider program is progressing as planned and is undergoing flight testing at Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing facility on Edwards Air Force Base, California. The B-21 will have an open architecture, allowing for the integration of new technologies to address future threats across various operational scenarios. The B-21 Long Range Strike Family of Systems will significantly improve mission effectiveness and Joint interoperability in advanced threat environments, thereby bolstering U.S. deterrence and strategic advantage. Hunter explained that this is the first aircraft that is more digital than not, which helps the program meet its requirements.

The B-21 is a long-range, highly survivable, penetrating strike stealth bomber that will incrementally replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers and will play a major role in supporting national security objectives and assuring U.S. allies and partners across the globe.

The B-21 weapon system is being manufactured under the Air Force's contract with Northrop Grumman. It is designed with an open systems architecture, which enables the rapid insertion of mature technologies. This allows the aircraft to remain effective as threats evolve over time. The aircraft is expected to enter service in the mid-2020s with a production goal of at least 100 aircraft.

The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office oversees the acquisition program, with a focus on ensuring that test aircraft closely resemble production aircraft. Test aircraft are constructed on the same manufacturing line and utilize the same staff and tools that will be used in the final production.

The AFRCO's strategy involves building test aircraft as close to production models as possible. Instead of following the traditional flight prototype approach, B-21 test aircraft are constructed with mission systems using the same manufacturing processes and tools used for production aircraft. This development approach has paved the way for a quicker start to production.

When the B-21 enters service, Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota will be the first B-21 main operating base and the location of the formal training unit. The preferred locations for the remaining bases are Whiteman AFB in Missouri and Dyess AFB in Texas, and they will receive aircraft as they become available.

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