US Air Force unveils new stealth bomber

Nuclear-capable B-21 Raider will have a 'flying wing' design and be capable of dodging radar

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The US Air Force on Friday unveiled its latest stealth plane, the B-21 Raider, a long-range bomber designed to be flown either by a pilot or remotely.

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among about 600 guests at a Northrop Grumman plant in Palmdale, California, to witness the aircraft's unveiling.

Visitors were required to hand over their mobile phones before being allowed to see the plane from at least 23 metres away.

Media photographers were allowed to take picture of the aircraft only from tightly controlled angles, reflecting the Pentagon’s determination to keep details of the bomber’s technology a secret.

The B-21 is the successor to the ageing B-2 bombers that were built by Northrop starting in the 1980s.

The new plane — designed to carry both nuclear and conventional precision-guided long-range munitions — is an essential part of the Pentagon’s plan to counter China as Washington's primary global challenger.

The bomber, expected to be deployed by the middle of the decade, is designed to be flown by a pilot or remotely.

The US Air Force has described it as part of a “family of systems, implying that it is the node of a larger, distributed network of sensors and communications, not all of which may have been publicly disclosed”, the Congressional Research Service said.

The nuclear-capable bomber is of a similar “flying wing” design to the B-2 plane that it is replacing. The B-21 programme is worth $203 billion and includes a fleet of 100 bombers.

A B-2 Bomber approaches a KC-135R Stratotanker for refuelling. Photo: US Air Force

The B-21 also features more durable, stealth-enabling low observable surface material that will require less maintenance and keep operations costs and downtime to a minimum, Northrop Grumann executive Doug Young told Reuters in an interview.

The B-21’s average procurement price per plane has remained below its $550 million target, measured in fiscal 2010 dollars.

Adjusted for inflation, the cost is about $692 million, Maj Joshua Benedetti, a US Air Force spokesman, said in a statement.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: December 03, 2022, 11:03 AM