The B-21 Raider's Mission: Win a Great Power War
B-21 Bomber

Due to the high cost of designing, building, and deploying a strategic bomber force, only China, Russia, and the United States have strategic bombers that can reach continents thousands of miles away.

The B-21 Raider is named after the Doolittle Raiders, also known as Tokyo Raid, men in the United States Army Air Force during World War II. 

President Roosevelt ordered a stealth attack on Japan’s home turf just a few months after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the US’s string of defeats in the Pacific theatre.

On April 18, 1942, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle launched land-based B-25 Mitchell bombers from the US aircraft carrier USS Hornet and bombed several Japanese cities before continuing to what was then China.

The attack shocked the top leaders of Japan, and they had to pull back their fighting forces to protect the country. The Raider was the first bomber made in the 21st century, so it was named “B-21.”

General characteristics of the B-21 Raider

To replace its outdated fleet of B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers, the Air Force is developing a new high-tech stealth bomber called the B-21 Raider.

The Raider will be able to get through enemy air defenses anywhere in the world, hit targets, and safely return home, which 90% of the current USAF bomber fleet can’t do.

Long-range, robust, and able to carry both conventional and nuclear missiles, the B-21 is set to replace B-1 bombers in 2025 and completely phase them out by 2036.

The Air Force is planning to buy 100 Raiders. Some defense analysts say the Air Force should buy 200 B-21s instead of 100 Raiders.

According to Senator Mike Rounds, the only member of Congress to make a classified visit to the production plant in Palmdale, California, the B-21 Raider is likely to be revealed by the Air Force this year.

“Although much of the information I received on my visit is classified, I am pleased to report that the B-21 is on schedule and budget,” Rounds said.  “The public can expect the B-21 to be shown later this year.”

Only artistic renderings of the Raider have been made so far, so the unveiling will attract a lot of attention. 

The Air Force has decided to start B-21 training at Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB) in South Dakota.

Dyess AFB in Texas and Whiteman AFB in Missouri are possible future homes for the Raiders’ other bases.

Tinker AFB Oklahoma will handle maintenance for the Raiders, while Edwards AFB, Calif., will be the site of B-21 testing and evaluation.

Australia could participate in the program.

One surprising thing about the B-21 Raider program was when it was said that the United States might think about giving Australia B-21s to stop China from expanding in the South Pacific.

This week, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall met with RAAF officer Robert Chipman in Canberra. He told Chipman that Washington is thinking about it.

“We are in what I consider to be a race for military technological superiority with the Chinese,” Kendall told the Australian website The Strategist, affiliated with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

“I don’t think there is any fundamental limitation on the areas in which we can cooperate,” the secretary said. “If Australia needed a long-range attack, we would be willing to talk to them about it,” he added.

Another exciting new feature of the program is that the B-21 Raider will operate with drones like the Air Force’s Valkyrie. 

Undersecretary of the Air Force, Gina Ortiz, told the media during the Air Force budget hearing for the fiscal year 2023: “We are evaluating the possibility of introducing a complementary, lower-cost, unmanned aircraft in the B- 21 to provide a higher level of capability.”

This will allow manned aircrews to operate securely from enemy air defenses and an advanced sensor platform to perform reconnaissance, test enemy air defenses, or launch operator-directed munitions.

Along with the very high cost of a bomber program, leaders and analysts always ask, “Why does the United States need bombers when we already have drones and missiles?

Drones and missiles are great for the US arsenal, but neither is as capable of survivability as a stealth bomber. And, despite their prohibitive cost (the cost of producing, testing, and deploying the B-21 fleet is expected to cost around $230 billion. 

Stealth bombers are the only weapon that can fly intercontinental and penetrate the air defenses of any country and launch conventional or nuclear weapons.

B-2 Spirit

The B-21 Raider

The nuclear deterrence of the Raider is an important part of the strategy of the United States, China, and Russia,

The B-21 from Northrop-Grumman is rumored to be far more robust and agile than the Spirit and a step up from the B-2.

The B-21 Raider will ensure that the United States can project its strength anywhere, at any time, against any enemy, actual or hypothetical, when the aging B-2s and B-52s of the Cold War are no longer up to the task.