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

The Australian Institute of Aviation stated on August 23 that US Air Force (USAF) Secretary Frank Kendall indicated Washington might consider providing Australia with B-21 Raider long-range bombers if Canberra requests them. Strategic Policy (ASPI).

Air Marshal Robert Chipman, the new leader of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), met with Kendall in Canberra this week.

During Kendall and Chipman’s joint media briefing, ASPI asked the Secretary of the USAF if the United States would consider allowing Australia to join in its development of the B-21 to provide the RAAF with a long-range attack. He said: “I think the United States would generally be willing to talk to Australia about anything they were interested in that we could help them with.”

Kendall also used the F-35 joint attack fighter as an example of the tight cooperation between the United States and Australia and stated that he did not feel any fundamental constraints on the areas where the two countries might work.

“If Australia needed a long-range strike, and I think the Chief of the Air Staff would be the best person to talk to about it, we would be willing to talk to them about it,” Kendall said.

In addition, Chipman said that as the government’s strategic defense assessment developed, a clearer picture of Australia’s long-range strike capacity emerged.

“But I would say that if we were to put money into a long-range attack, it would have to be balanced. We’d also have to be able to keep these platforms safe and running while they’re on land in Australia.

So, even if we work with the US on the B-21, it’s only a small part of what Australia would need to be able to strike anywhere in the world, Chipman said.

The B-21 Raider

It is anticipated that the B-21 Raider will be a heavy strategic bomber built to carry both nuclear and conventional missiles.

Due to the known economic restrictions of the B-21 program and the aircraft’s projected long range and high payload, the aircraft’s designed speed may be subsonic.

The Raider’s size, stealth, structure, and onboard sensors are unknown.

The USAF intends to equip the B-21 with the next generation’s Long Range Cruise Missiles (LRSO) for nuclear missions. 

The bomber will also be equipped to carry the B61 family of free-fall gravity nuclear bombs, particularly the new B61-12 with selectable yield.

The Raider’s stealth cruise missiles will first decimate the enemy’s air defense network, and only then will it unleash its gravity nukes on their targets.

The GBU-31 Joint Directed Attack Munition (JDAM) is a 1,000-pound satellite-guided bomb, and the Joint Air-to-Surface Extended Range Missile (JASSM-ER) cruise missile will be on board the Raider for conventional missions.

If the United States decides to include Australia in its B-21 bomber program, it would be the next major milestone in defense cooperation between the two countries, following last year’s trilateral AUKUS agreement, under which the United States participated alongside Australia and the United Kingdom.

 The United States and the United Kingdom assisted Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.

For Australia, the B-21 Raider might be a game-changer.

In its Defense Strategic Update for 2020, the Australian government recommended investing in long-range attack capabilities to address China’s growing security threat.

Even though Australia is 7,400 kilometers away from China, Canberra views Beijing as a threat. It concerns China’s growing military strength and the possibility of becoming entangled in a more significant battle between the United States and China in the Indo-Pacific area.

According to experts, the existence of US military stations in Australia, such as the Northwest Cape and Pine Gap, makes Australia a target for long-range Chinese attacks in the event of a Sino-US battle over Taiwan.

Australia has reportedly bought JASSM-ER missiles to equip its Super Hornets, as reported by the EurAsian Times. The F-35A Lightning II, which the RAAF hopes to purchase, will increase the range at which it can attack targets from within Australia to 900 kilometers.

However, the F-35A will not make it to the South China Sea. Without aerial refueling, However, over contested airspace, the availability of air tankers is uncertain in the midst of a battle.

In addition, the F-35A has a limited effective combat radius of around 1,000 kilometers, which might be increased to over 1,500 kilometers with a tanker.

Even if the F-35As are armed with JASSM-ER missiles, the RAAF can only engage targets up to 2,400 kilometers away, which isn’t enough to cover China.

China already has the potential to launch a long-range strike across Australia, using bombers and missiles that might destroy F-35As before they even take off.

Since the B-21 Raider is rumored to have three to four times the range of the F-35A, allowing it to travel exceptionally far in the Indo-Pacific without tanker backup, this could be a game-changer for Australia.

In addition, the more extended range of the Raider would enable the RAAF to position it deep into Australia, away from potential threats.