The U.S. Air Force has six B-21 Raider next generation stealth bombers in production that it intends to roll out this year, according to a report.
Last fall, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall confirmed that five B-21 aircraft were already in production. The future stealth bomber is designed to carry out long-range conventional and nuclear missions and slated to hit full operations in the mid-2020s.
The first B-21 units coming off the assembly line could be in the air by the end of the year, an Air Force Global Strike Command official said Wednesday, according to Air Force Magazine.
“The B-21, going into the future, is going to be our penetrating, get inside the anti-access, area of denial, dual-capable aircraft,” Major General Jason Armagost of Air Force Global Strike Command said during the 2022 Nuclear Deterrence Summit in Arlington, Virginia, the magazine reported.
“There are now six of those in existence,” Armagost said. “The rollout will probably be some time this year. I’m not at liberty to give the likely date of that, but [it will be] quickly followed by first flight.”
The Air Force considers the B-21 program, which has been expedited by digital technology, to be a model program, Armagost said.
“We are capitalizing on the revolution in digital—models-based systems engineering, open mission systems architecture software,” he said.
The aircraft’s fuel control system, for example, has been validated through models-based systems engineering, Armagost said. “And they actually built a fuel systems model and tested the software, and the software is ready to go,” he said, according to the magazine.
The B-21 Raider, along with B-52s, will form a two-bomber fleet that will incrementally replace the aging fleet of B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit bombers.
The Air Force has said it intends to purchase at least 100 aircraft it says will form the backbone of the service’s bomber force, with an average unit procurement cost of $639 million each.
Last year, the Air Force announced the B-21 Raider will be headed to Edwards Air Force Base, California, where the 420th Flight Test Squadron will plan, test, analyze, and report all ground and flight testing.
The first operational B-21 Raider unit will be located at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota—the training grounds of the B-17 Flying Fortresses in 1942.