AIRFRAME: B-21 Raider

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Charles Dickens
  • Airman Magazine

"Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft. Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky."Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Defense

  As the battlefield technology and capability of potential adversaries advances, so must weapon systems. A new airframe aims to revolutionize the U.S. Air Force bomber fleet by creating adversarial vulnerabilities from anywhere on the planet. The U.S. Air Force’s inventory of bombers has not seen a new addition since the end of the Cold War. In a new era of the Great Power Competition, a survivable and lethal bomber capable of stand-off attack and penetrating an adversary’s airspace was needed. 

  Enter the B-21 Raider, named in honor of the Doolittle Raiders, who successfully launched a surprise attack using 16 B-25B Mitchells against Japanese forces during World War II, April 18, 1942. The raid caused little physical damage to military infrastructure; but created doubt amongst Japanese units and the populace. They questioned their military’s ability to defend the home islands from the United States’ power projection capabilities, negatively impacting future military operations for Japanese forces. 

  The B-21 is a high-tech nuclear-capable stealth bomber designed with future modernization in mind to ensure the aircraft and technology are able to evolve throughout time and threat changes. The aircraft is designed to operate in tomorrow's high-end threat environment and will play a critical role in ensuring America's enduring airpower and power projection capabilities.

  The Raider will serve within a larger family of systems for conventional long-range strikes, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic attack, communication, and other capabilities. It is designed to accommodate manned or unmanned operations. Additionally, it will be able to employ a broad mix of stand-off and direct-attack munitions. 

  Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Defense, explained that the range of the B-21 is unmatched by any other bomber. Similarly to the B-2 Spirit, the B-21 Raider is a stealth aircraft designed to be hard for adversaries to see that it's coming.

  "It won't need to be based in-theater and won't need logistical support to hold any target at risk," Austin said. "Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft. Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky."Austin also said the Raider is designed to be easily maintainable, which will help ensure that the aircraft is always ready to go when needed. "We don't really have a capability unless we can maintain it," Austin emphasized. "The B-21 is carefully designed to be the most maintainable bomber ever built.”

“This isn’t just another airplane. It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love, and it’s a testament to our strategy of deterrence with the capabilities to back it up every time and everywhere.”Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Defense

B-21 Raider Unveiling



  • 2011: The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office began planning the highly classified special access program 
  • 2015: Northrop Grumman received the contract to begin developing the aircraft 
  • 2019: The Air Force completed the Strategic Basing Process and announced the preferred main operating base locations were Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.; Whiteman AFB, Mo.; and Dyess AFB, Texas
  • 2021: The Environmental Impact Statement Process is completed and Ellsworth AFB was named the main operating base, as well as the location of the Formal Training Unit
  • FUTURE: The Air Force Test Center at Edwards AFB, Calif., will host the B-21 Combined Test Force and the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker AFB, Okla., is the site for depot planning.

Aircraft Stats

  • PRIMARY FUNCTION: Nuclear-capable, penetrating strike stealth bomber
  • LEADING COMMAND: Air Force Global Strike Command
  • CONTRACTOR: Northrop Grumman Corp.
  • INVENTORY: 100 (minimum)
  • MUNITIONS: Nuclear and conventional
  • AVERAGE UNIT PROCUREMENT COST: $692 million (2022 cost estimate calculated with total costs of all procurement funding to include, aircraft flyaway costs, support equipment, training, spares, and engineering change orders divided by a minimum of 100 aircraft)
  • OPERATIONAL: Slated for mid-2020s