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Here’s a New Image of the Secret B-21 Raider Bomber. Let’s Analyze It.


    The U.S. Air Force just dropped a new image of its top-secret B-21 Raider bomber. While the second official artist rendering doesn’t show a complete view of the bomber, the image does reveal important new details about the hotly anticipated plane, including how it’s markedly different from the older B-2 Spirit.

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    Artist and Northrop Grumman photographer Alan Radecki’s new illustration, seen above, depicts the B-21 taking off from Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. Northrop is the prime contractor for the Raider, and also built the Spirit, the U.S.’s first bat-winged stealth bomber.

    This new image complements the first official B-21 image below, which the Air Force released in 2016:

    us air force b21 raider bomber

    The first artist’s rendering of the B-21 Raider.

    U.S. Air Force

    That image depicted the plane from above, showing off the recessed air intakes and simplified trailing edge. (The B-2’s “sawtooth” trailing edge was originally going to look more like the B-21’s until a redesign added the serration-like surfaces.)

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    The B-2’s “sawtooth” trailing edge was designed to strengthen the aircraft for low-altitude flight. The B-21’s lack of such a dangerous-looking trailing edge suggests it flies at higher altitudes or that it uses stronger, lighter construction materials.

    Alberto E. RodriguezGetty Images

    The new rendering shows the plane’s belly and nose. In addition to the trailing edge, this image confirms the Raider incorporates two new features.

    One is the nose, which is straighter and a bit longer than the drooping nose of the B-2. The second is the odd windscreen configuration, in which the outer windscreens look like bushy eyebrows. The overall impression is that of a giant, frowning woodpecker.

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    The B-21 Raider force will be based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. The B-21 will have a crew of two, but will also be capable of uncrewed operation.

    The Air Force also released an updated fact sheet for the B-21, which it describes as “a component of a larger family of systems for conventional Long Range Strike, including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, electronic attack, communication and other capabilities.”

    The data sheet says the Raider can carry “a broad mix of standoff and direct-attack munitions.” Standoff weapons will almost certainly include the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Munition (JASSM) that B-1 Lancer bombers recently employed against targets in Syria, while the direct-attack weapons would include the GPS-guided Joint Directed Attack Munition (JDAM).

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    In addition to its conventional role, the B-21 Raider will be capable of carrying both long range cruise missiles and free-fall nuclear bombs. The Raider will pack the new Long Range Stand Off nuclear-tipped cruise missile, the B61-12 thermonuclear bomb, and the most powerful thermonuclear weapon in the U.S. military’s inventory: the 1.2-megaton B83 bomb.

    The B-21 Raider is named after “Doolittle’s Raiders,” the legendary group of airmen who, in the early days of World War II, flew B-52 Mitchell bombers from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. The Raiders struck several targets in Japan, lifting the spirits of a country still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    The Air Force plans for the B-21 to replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers starting in the late 2020s. The service wants at least 100 of the bombers, but would prefer 200 or more. As relations with Russia and China continue to deteriorate, the U.S. could find itself with a need for a permanent, Cold War-style force of nuclear-armed bombers ready to take to the skies at a moment’s notice.


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