The United States on Friday unveiled the B-21 Raider, a high-tech stealth bomber that can carry nuclear and conventional weapons and is designed to fly without a crew on board.
The B-21, which will cost nearly $700 million per plane and will be the first new American bomber in decades, will gradually replace the B-1 and B-2 aircraft, which first flew during the Cold War.
“The B-21 will be the backbone of our future bombers. It will have the range, access and payload to penetrate the most contested threat environments and endanger any target around the world,” said Ann Stefanek, US Air Force spokesman. told AFP.
The first B-21 flight is expected to take place next year, and the Air Force plans to buy at least 100 of the planes, Stefanek said.
Manufacturer Northrop Grumman said six of the planes are currently in various stages of assembly and testing at the Palmdale, California, facility where the unveiling will take place.
The bomber will be an important part of the US ‘nuclear triad’, which consists of weapons that can be launched from land, air and sea.
“For nuclear deterrence, the bomber fleet provides flexibility to the US nuclear stance, and redundancy if one of the other legs fails,” said Amy Nelson, a fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank.
Many details of the aircraft are being kept under wraps, but the aircraft should offer significant advances over existing bombers in the US fleet.
– ‘Designed to evolve’ –
One of the new capabilities offered by the B-21 is the potential for unmanned flight. Stefanek said the plane is “provided with the possibility, but no decision has been made to fly without a crew”.
The aircraft also has an “open architecture”, which is intended to allow easier and faster upgrades.
Nelson said the B-21 was “designed to evolve”.
“The ‘open architecture’ allows the future integration of improved software (including for autonomy) so that the aircraft does not become obsolete so quickly,” she said.
“The B-21 is much fancier than its predecessors — really modern. Not only is it dual-capable (unlike the B-2), which means it can launch nuclear or conventionally armed missiles, it can also launch long and launch short range missiles,” Nelson added.
Like the F-22 and F-35 fighters, the B-21 will feature stealth technology, which minimizes an aircraft’s signature through both its shape and materials, making it more difficult for opponents to detect.
The technology has been around for decades, but Northrop said the aircraft will feature “next generation stealth” and will use unspecified “new manufacturing techniques and materials” on the B-21.
The “Raider” portion of the aircraft’s name honors the 1942 American bomber raid on Tokyo led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle – the first American attack on the homeland of Japan after last year’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)
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