Air Force B-21 Raider Long-Range Strike Bomber
(Source: Congressional Research Service; updated Sept. 22, 2021)
On October 27, 2015, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced its intention to award a contract to build the new Long-Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) to the Northrop Grumman Corporation. Subsequently, the Secretary of the Air Force announced that the bomber would be designated the B-21 “Raider,” in honor of the Doolittle Raiders of World War II.

The B-21 is intended to operate in both conventional and nuclear roles, with the capability of penetrating and surviving in advanced air defense environments.2 It will be capable of operation by an onboard crew or piloted remotely. It is projected to enter service in the mid-2020s, building to an initial fleet of 100 aircraft. B-21s will be based at Dyess AFB, TX; Whiteman AFB, MO; and Ellsworth AFB, SD, with Ellsworth as the training base.

The B-21 is one of the Air Force’s top three procurement priorities.

Next-Generation Bomber

The B-21 has its roots in the Air Force’s Next-Generation Bomber (NGB) program.6 Begun in 2004 as a congressional initiative to explore new technologies, NGB grew in response to the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review’s (QDR’s) call for development of a next-generation bomber that would enter service by 2018. The NGB program sought to develop a new land-based, penetrating long-range strike capability to complement a modernized bomber force.

Prior to 2006, the Air Force had indicated that its fleet of B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers would suffice until 2037, when advanced technologies, such as hypersonic cruise vehicles, would potentially reach maturity and be incorporated into a follow-on bomber aircraft. The 2006 QDR’s call for a new bomber to enter service in 2018 thus accelerated Air Force plans for fielding a new bomber by almost 20 years.

Two competitors participated in the NGB program: Northrop Grumman and a team composed of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.8 Both competitors had experience with modern bomber design and development: Northrop was the prime contractor for the B-2, and Boeing was a major subcontractor on that program. Rockwell International (later acquired by Boeing) was the prime contractor for the B-1. Boeing was the prime contractor for the B-52.

From FY2004 to FY2009, DOD requested more than $1.4 billion in the unclassified Air Force research and development budget for the NGB. After these initial development efforts, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that he would recommend deferring the start of an NGB program: “We will not pursue a development program for a follow-on Air Force bomber until we have a better understanding of the need, the requirement, and the technology.”

Several issues regarding the NGB had not been resolved, most notably whether it should be capable of unmanned operations and whether the NGB should have the capability to deliver nuclear weapons. Either of these capabilities would have added cost and complexity to the system. (end of excerpt)


Click here for the full report (18 PDF pages), on the CRS website.

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