Air Force unveils B-21 Raider, America's newest nuclear stealth bomber, after years of secrecy

The veil of secrets shrouding the U.S. Air Force's new long-range stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, has been lifted.

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force provided the first glimpse Friday of the B-21 Raider strike bomber at the Air Force's plant in Palmdale, California.  More advanced than any current aircraft, the B-21 is capable of carrying nuclear and conventional payloads. It isn't expected to make its first flight until next year, and it won't be deployed for several more years, Northrop Grumman said in an announcement.

The reveal sends a message to the world that the U.S. has a "mission to defend America and deter aggression," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. 

The B-21 is crucial to the Pentagon's strategy of countering growing concerns over a future conflict with China.

"America's defense will always be rooted in deterring conflict. So we are again making it plain to any potential foe: The risks and costs of aggression far outweigh any conceivable gains," Austin said.

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin introduces the B-21 Raider stealth at Northrop Grumman Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Palmdale, Calif.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin introduces the B-21 Raider stealth at Northrop Grumman Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Palmdale, Calif.

The B-21 Raider, which takes its name from the 1942 Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years. The aircraft is one of six under production, according to the Air Force. The Air Force expects to eventually have at least 100 B-21 bombers, the Air Force said.

Most characteristics of the B-21's development have been classified. The aircraft connects to cloud-based communication networks, and its "digital ecosystem" allows it to be upgraded, Northrup Grumman said.

And space-age coating materials make it harder to be detected. “Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft,” Austin said. “Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky.”

Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota will house the bomber’s first training program and squadron, though the bombers are also expected to be stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

The B-21 Raider stealth bomber is unveiled at Northrop Grumman Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Palmdale, Calif. America's newest nuclear stealth bomber made its debut Friday after years of secret development and as part of the Pentagon's answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China.
The B-21 Raider stealth bomber is unveiled at Northrop Grumman Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Palmdale, Calif. America's newest nuclear stealth bomber made its debut Friday after years of secret development and as part of the Pentagon's answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China.

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How much will actually be spent on the bombers won't be known until production progresses, which troubles government watchdogs. “It’s easy to say that the B-21 is still on schedule before it actually flies. Because it’s only when one of these programs goes into the actual testing phase when real problems are discovered," Dan Grazier, a senior defense policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, told The Associated Press.

As far back as 2016, Sen. John McCain, the late Arizona Republican who was taken a prisoner of war in Vietnam, voiced concerns about the costs of the B-21. But earlier this year, Northrop Grumman said the cost of developing the bomber has come in below the Air Force’s $25.1 billion projection, Bloomberg reported.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pentagon's B-21 Raider unveiled as newest nuclear stealth bomber