The B-21 Bomber Unveiled

At the end of last week, the United States Air Force and the Northrop Grumman Co. unveiled the B-21 Raider, the first of what might be called the 6th Generation of combat aircraft. If you saw the unveiling on the news, it was like a Hollywood promo for a Star Wars sequel.

This new bomber will be a potential force multiplier for the Air Force. The B-21 clearly is part of a lineage going back to the B-2 flying wing bomber that is now some 30 years old, unbelievably. That bomber proved its worth and abilities in the 90s during Desert Storm and the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both the B-2 and the B-21 flying wing designs descend from the YB-35 and YB-49 designs of Jack Northrop himself, going back some 70 years ago now.

Photo: YouTube/Reuters

The B-21 has been in the design process for several years and has reached the level of development where it will now be undergoing the more public phases of development and testing. It will probably take its first flight in the middle of next year, 2023, and will go into service a couple of years later. This new stealth combat bomber is going to bring capabilities far in advance of its predecessor, the B-2.

Up until now, all that has been seen of the B-21 were artists’ renditions. These artistic renderings altered or concealed various design features to protect the aircraft’s secret attributes. The recent live unveiling was done in a way to protect some of those features and characteristics as well.

Photo: YouTube/Reuters

An article in the Air and Space Forces Magazine says that the B-21, “will have the ability to be ‘optionally manned,'” though this meaning is beyond this unsophisticated writer’s understanding. It will have, “even better stealth features than the preceding 5th Generation combat aircraft.” Some of these features will include “better sensors, sharply improved stealth and, potentially, capabilities to use directed-energy weapons, like lasers or high-powered microwave beams.”

The role of the B-21 will be to be the centerpiece of a “family of systems” which will include as yet to be revealed “external support platforms and enablers.”

The B-21 was originally expected to be named the B-3, but, in 2016, then Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James changed the name to the B-21 to reflect the new plane’s status as the Air Force’s principle bomber for the 21st Century. It is called the B-21 “Raider” in honor of WWII’s Jimmy Doolittle’s Raiders, who, as US Army Air Force pilots, flew their B-25s off of an aircraft carrier to attack Japan’s homeland shortly after the infamous Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. That daring attack shook the Japanese, who, until then, thought their homeland impregnable.

The Air Force says that the B-21 will be capable of “holding at risk any target on the face of the earth.” It will be able, with its still-secret levels of stealth technology, “to penetrate the most sophisticated air defenses any nation can muster.” They say it will have the capability to persist in enemy territory, collecting information and providing it to other strikers in the area.

Photo: YouTube/Reuters

I was a recon “Doc” 50 years ago in the technological dark ages. I know nothing about any of this high-tech “stuff.” To this unsophisticated troglodyte’s ear and imagination, this mysterious-looking flying wing, the B-21, looks and sounds like Star Trek, Klingon, cloaking technology. We should be getting used to these kinds of things by now, I guess. After all, the old Flash Gordon cartoons in the early 20th century imagined rocket ships going to the moon decades before the technology existed or that reality happened. It is a constant source of human failure that we seem to live in a world where this kind of genius must be directed toward war-fighting capabilities. We can only hope that our moral genius will one day catch up with and surpass our technological genius and make such necessities as the B-21 Raider obsolete before they are even imagined or built. Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.

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