B-21 Long Range Strike Platform 'Raider'
The U.S. Air Force publicly unveiled, on 02 December 2022, the B-21 Raider, the first new, long-range strike bomber in a generation and an aircraft specifically designed to be the multifunctional backbone of the modernized bomber fleet. The formal unveiling ceremony was hosted by Northrop Grumman Corporation at its production facilities in California and was meant to be a significant milestone in the Air Force's effort to modernize combat capabilities.
The B-21 is the first new bomber to be introduced since the end of the Cold War. Air Force officials envision an ultimate fleet of at least 100 aircraft with an average procurement unit cost requirement of $692 million (base year 2022 dollars). The specific B-21 unveiled Dec. 2 is one of six under production. Each is considered a test aircraft, but each is being built on the same production line, using the same tools, processes, and technicians who will build production aircraft. This approach has enabled production engineers and technicians to capture lessons learned and apply them directly to follow-on aircraft, driving home a focus on repeatability, producibility and quality.
On February 26, 2016 Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James revealed the first "rendering" of the Long Range Strike Bomber, designated the B-21, at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., and announced the Air Force will be taking suggestions from Airmen to help decide the name of the bomber. The designation B-21 recognizes the LRS-B as the first bomber of the 21st century.
The picture is surely no more than a "rendering" since there is no indication as to the location or configuration for the engine exhaust on the top of the plane visible in the rendering. Presumabl the exhaust is on the bottom of the plane, but this seems improbable. Heat, in the form of infrared radiation, radiates from aircraft engines and, unless otherwise shielded, will emit or reflect down and outward into directions that can be used by would-be threats to try and target aircraft operating in zones of armed conflict. Whether or not aircraft are fitted with protective countermeasures equipment, aircraft that project heat and noise toward the community don't offer any preventative deterrence against the would-be threat, such as interrupting the weapon targeting process. The interests of military and special purpose aircraft operators and procurement officials continue to be focused on affordability and burdens for installed defensive systems for aircraft and crew protection.
The US Air Force has chosen several aerospace companies to work with prime contractor Northrop Grumman on the new long-range B-21 strategic bomber project, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James told a press conference 07 March 2016. James said the companies are: Pratt & Whitney, BAE Systems, GKN Aerospace, Rockwell Collins, Spirit Aerosystems and Orbital ATK. "Pratt & Whitney will provide new engines, the other six will work on air frames [and other systems]," James stated. The initial contract value will be worth more than $23 billion, US Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Walsh told the press conference. Eventually, the US Air Force may buy up to 100 of new stealth aircraft costing more than $50 billion, according to published reports.
On 27 October 2015 the US Air Force selected Northrop Grumman Corporation to deliver the nation's new Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B). This selection continued the company's 35-year partnership with the Air Force in providing the world's most advanced long-range strike systems.
"The Air Force has made the right decision for our nation's security," said Wes Bush, chairman, chief executive officer and president, Northrop Grumman. "As the company that developed and delivered the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, we look forward to providing the Air Force with a highly-capable and affordable next-generation Long-Range Strike Bomber. "Our team has the resources in place to execute this important program, and we're ready to get to work," Bush added.
Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide.
"Over the past century, no nation has used air power to accomplish its global reach -- to compress time and space -- like the United States," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during a Pentagon briefing announcing the contract. "Today, it's vital to innovate and reinvest in the people, strategies and technologies that will allow America's military to be dominant in the second aerospace century. I’ve made such innovation a hallmark of my commitment to the future of America’s military.
"Building this bomber is a strategic investment in the next 50 years, and represents our aggressive commitment to a strong and balanced force," Carter continued. "It demonstrates our commitment to our allies and our determination to potential adversaries, making it crystal clear that the United States will continue to retain the ability to project power throughout the globe long into the future."
"The LRS-B will provide our nation tremendous flexibility as a dual-capable bomber and the strategic agility to respond and adapt faster than our potential adversaries,” said Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Chief of Staff of the Air Force. “We have committed to the American people to provide security in the skies, balanced by our responsibility to affordably use taxpayer dollars in doing so. This program delivers both while ensuring we are poised to face emerging threats in an uncertain future.”
On 06 November 2015 Boeing and Lockheed Martin filed a formal protest today asking the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the decision to award the Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) contract to Northrop Grumman. Boeing and Lockheed Martin concluded the selection process for the Long Range Strike Bomber was fundamentally flawed. The cost evaluation performed by the government did not properly reward the contractors' proposals to break the upward-spiraling historical cost curves of defense acquisitions, or properly evaluate the relative or comparative risk of the competitors' ability to perform, as required by the solicitation. That flawed evaluation led to the selection of Northrop Grumman over the industry-leading team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, whose "proposal offers the government and the warfighter the best possible LRS-B at a cost that uniquely defies the prohibitively expensive trends of the nation's past defense acquisitions".
On 26 February 2016 Boeing and Lockheed Martin dropped their lawsuit to prevent the US Air Force awarding its $55 billion Long Range Strike-Bomber contract to their rival Northrop Grumman, Boeing said in a news release. "[The] Lockheed Martin team has decided not to pursue further challenges to that award, either through the GAO [Government Accountability Office] or in federal court," the release stated. The two aerospace corporations applied to the GAO claiming their own joint bid to build the bomber to ensure the next generation of US strategic air power projection had been rejected on false grounds. The GAO investigation upheld the original US Air Force decision to award the contract to Northrop Grumman.
The Long Range Strike Bomber contract is composed of two parts. The contract for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development, or EMD, phase is a cost-reimbursable type contract with cost and performance incentives. The incentives minimize the contractor’s profit if they do not control cost and schedule appropriately. The independent estimate for the EMD phase is $21.4 billion in 2010 dollars.
The second part of the contract is composed of options for the first 5 production lots, comprising 21 aircraft out of the total fleet of 100. They are fixed price options with incentives for cost. Based on approved requirements, the Average Procurement Unit Cost (APUC) per aircraft is required to be equal to or less than $550 million per aircraft in 2010 dollars when procuring 100 LRS-B aircraft. The APUC from the independent estimate supporting today’s award is $511 million per aircraft, again in 2010 dollars.
Based on 2015 LRS-B independent cost estimates, the Air Force projected the APUC for the program will be approximately a third of the previous B-2 stealth aircraft.
A senior Air Force official said 24 July 2019 that the B-21 Raider bomber will fly for the first time in December 2021. Given the program's secrecy, this is a significant new data point. Analysts estimated production of the first prototype will start sometime in FY20 and LRIP would start in FY23, with both years representing step-ups in funding. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said the service needed "at least 100" B-21s and is looking at the force structure mix between B-1s, B-2s and B-52s.
Acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan announced 16 September 2019 that the B-21 Raider is being produced in Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, California, facility - the same location as the B-2 Spirit. In addition, the 420th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California, will be reactivated to support testing of the B-21 Raider, as it did for the B-2. While speaking at the Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber Conference, Donovan remarked on the Air Force's B-21 program noting, "the development of the B-21 Raider is on schedule and the first test aircraft is under production at the same production facility in Palmdale, California, as its predecessor, the B-2. The first flight of the Raider will take it from Palmdale to Edwards AFB, where the legacy of excellence will continue with the reactivation of the 420th Flight Test Squadron." The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office along with the 420th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB will ensure delivery of this asymmetric capability to the warfighter at the preferred main operating base locations of Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas.
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