The Air Force’s new B-21 Raider stealth bomber may be as shocking as it is secret, given that the largely “black” program will soon explode on the scene with its maiden flight this year.
B-21: What we know
For reasonable security concerns, very little is known about the aircraft, but senior Air Force weapons development officials have made it plain for years that the new platform will be capable of threatening any target, anywhere in the world, at any time.
Significantly, the B-21 might be designed with paradigm-shifting levels of stealth technology, allowing it to operate against some of the most sophisticated air defenses.
Naturally, for security reasons, the details of how this could be accomplished are not likely to be known, but the revolutionary elements of the B-21’s technology likely lie in its stealth, detection, and computing properties.
The B-21 may incorporate new radar-absorbent materials that make the aircraft even less “locatable” by enemy radar systems than was the case with previous platforms, and there may certainly be new management methods as well capable of reducing the aircraft’s thermal signature.
Internally buried engines and specific exhaust gas or heat emission management technologies can further reduce aircraft detectability to enemy sensors.
At a special ceremony in California last December, the B-21 was largely unveiled to the public for the first time. During the presentation, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the plane “imposing” and suggested that its most impressive technologies could be found beneath its stealthy exterior.
“The B-21 looks imposing,” Austin said in a December 2022 Pentagon report. “But what lies beneath the space-age truss and skins is even more impressive.”
The B-21 can break new technological and tactical ground in a number of crucial areas, including computation, autonomy, range, and manned-unmanned teaming. Austin made it apparent that the B-21 would operate at unparalleled ranges, meaning that it could threaten targets anywhere in the world without being totally “forward positioned.”
This is quite significant, as the B-2 became famous for its ability to carry out 44-hour global missions by flying from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to Diego Garcia Island, off the coast of the United States. Years ago, India supported bombing missions over Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
In fact, the B-21 can operate with the capability to reach even greater distances, as Austin’s comment indicates. This reduces the risks associated with advanced deployment and endangers potential adversaries from anywhere in the world.
Top brass and weapons developers have stated that the B-21 will likely execute manned and unmanned flights and even function as a “family of systems” in the field of autonomy, which would be a significant technological advancement.
Given the current technological advancements in interconnecting manned and unmanned equipment, this suggests Air Force missions of critical relevance.
For instance, humans may safely command and direct a small fleet of very sophisticated unmanned drones from a safe distance, allowing the drones to patrol enemy territory, test hostile air defenses, and even deliver munitions.
The B-21 Raider is expected to serve within a broader family of systems for the conventional long-range attack, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; electronic attack; communication; and other capabilities.
It is nuclear-capable and designed to host manned or unmanned operations,” states a December 2022 Pentagon report on the B-21.
The AI stealth bomber?
Lastly, some of the B-21’s most impactful areas of technological innovation could reside in its sensing and computing systems, as it could be powered by AI-based data transmission and processing technologies.
AI-enabled airborne computing could, for example, collect, organize, and analyze vast amounts of otherwise disparate sensor data, process time-sensitive threat information, and function as a critical air combat “node.” within a broader, joint, multi-domain warfare environment.