US Air Force Starts B-21 Prototype Construction

The US Air Force is building its first test version of the new next-generation B-21 Raider stealth bomber.

The B-21 will have regular stealth against higher-frequency engagement radar and also against lower-frequency surveillance radar. China and Russia have shifted to using a network of low-frequency radar to detect and locate stealth aircraft.

The B-21 will also have thermal management to try to make the aircraft somewhat aligned with the temperature of the surrounding air so as not to create a heat differential for enemy sensors to detect.

It will use new materials that are described as radar-absorbent. The radar’s electronic signal will be absorbed. Properly-completed stealth construction can make a stealth airplane appear like a bird or an insect to enemy radar.

SOURCE – National Interest

39 thoughts on “US Air Force Starts B-21 Prototype Construction”

  1. Indétectable? Chef sur mon écran radar j’ai un insecte qui vole à la vitesse du son, c’est normal?
    Undetectable? Chief on my radar screen I have an insect that flies at the speed of sound, it’s normal?

  2. So I was making a crack at the MIC and how this is probably more expensive than it needs to be.
    But I guess that was lost on certain people.

  3. What enemy are we building this multi billion dollar bomber for Iran, China, Russia? It sounds like overkill and over spend.

  4. As explained in the best episode ever of the X-files: Clouds of insects, in the air, generating static electricity.

    That’s where the really weird UFO sitings, come from, especially the ones that show up on radar.

    Google: X-files Dr Bambi

  5. Having fully detailed plans for the B52 still doesn’t mean you can remake them cost effectively.

    As with the question of “why can’t we remake the Saturn V rockets? Did someone deliberately sabotage the records?” the issue is that the plans refer to a whole bunch of stuff that just isn’t available any more.

    eg. The skin is made of rolled aluminium sheet, purchased from company A, catalogue number 4572738-B.
    Great, except that this material was last produced in 1982. The company that makes it was merged into something else, that was taken over, spun off, went through a restructure, merged again… doesn’t exist in any traceable form. The factory that made the material was closed, torn down, a shopping mall was built, it went broke, is now a skate park. The machinery that made the material was itself recycled. The machinery that made the machinery is unknown by anyone still alive, and almost certainly gone too.
    Well OK. So we just specify another, modern material with the same specifications. But all the modern stuff is higher strength. So do we spec thinner stuff of the same strength? But then the elastic properties are different. And the modern stuff is designed to weld well, not to be riveted. And the modern stuff reacts differently to cold temperatures.
    So you really have to do all the engineering again, to come up with a new design that replicates the old design. Now repeat that with every one of 3000 different things on the Bill of Materials.

    Easier to start again

  6. “. . . the appropriations committees will rake them over the coals if the figures are exorbitant.”

    Probably not so much if a lot of it is being spent in their districts.

  7. It’s a lot easier to make a missile fast than a bomber fast. None of our cruise missiles are fired from within the AO anyway. It’s way cheaper and easier to engineer missiles’ capabilities around how close your bomber can get than to engineer a bomber than can get super duper close by having so much speed that it can evade the ground.

    Speed also increases your IR signature significantly.

  8. “But consider this from DefenseWeb regarding the B21 bomber cost:

    Citing the need to protect national security, the Air Force has kept secret the value of its 2015 contract award to Northrop Grumman Corp. to continue developing the bomber as well as the estimated total program acquisition and sustainment costs. 

    In other, words, it is SO BAD they aren’t even going to tell us, the taxpayers, how much we are being charged! ”

    ^there are two reasons this is not a good inference to draw from this. One is that the HASC and Senate Appropriations Committee are the ones who control the dollars and cents and they’re going to get a classified briefing of the full cost anyway, and they are the ones that the USAF has to answer to – not you and me. They only answer to you and me symbolically. They’re not getting away with murder by keeping it secret from us, because the appropriations committees will rake them over the coals if the figures are exorbitant.

    Secondly, when you work in large defense proposals, you learn enough about the overall structure and various boilerplate aspects of contract costs such that if you know A. the bottom line and B. the delivery date (or have an estimate), you can start to reverse engineer various aspects of the program and start to put some rough error bars around capabilities. That’s more than likely what they want to avoid. Dollar figures will be made public soon enough.

    ^That is not to say that I think the B-2 or B-21’s costs are reasonable.

  9. The primary reason Elon Musk is able to conduct spacecraft development much cheaper than NASA is specifically because they control all phases of development, they do not subcontract out. That is the only “magic” to the Space X model – that and, of course, soul crushing overtime (probably unpaid or at least partly unpaid). So the only way Elon Musk creates a B52 for substantially less than the “traditional government model” is if he builds new business sectors within his company to design and develop every component and subcomponent on the aircraft, because doing that is how Space X has kept costs down, because there’s profit markup and schedule risk associated with every subcontract.

  10. Take a look at russias old high speed bomber. It could outrun a lot of the US fighters of the time, and if it saw our fighters coming in time it could run and simply outdistance them as they didn’t have the endurance that it did at high speeds.

    But that was then. And today were looking at hypersonic missiles and lasers coming into play. Speed isn’t relevant, not being seen is. So I think the reasoning is dated.

    Least this is my best guess-not a expert.

  11. One more thing on the B52.

    These planes are 63 years old and the plan is to keep them up for a century.

    They are currently in the process of replacing all the engines and are also looking at a new electronic defense package.

    That done, pretty much everything but the air-frame itself will have been replaced . . . and the air-frame is an extremely well known commodity. I would be a tiny bit surprised if its plans haven’t already been digitized.

    Making new ones would knock off a large part of the up front costs of a totally new aircraft design.

    But, again, dirt cheap is relative. I have no doubt there would be inefficiencies in the procurement process, primarily because of members of Congress playing their usual games.

  12. Ask Elon Musk if he has a weeks or two per year to supervise a new B-52 substitute development.
    I bet he can come out with a cheaper, better, version. And he could probably repurpose half of the technologies developed to civilian use and make a profit too.

  13. Exactly.
    Modern bombers should be used only in surprise, high value, deep-strikes over enemy lines when enemy defences are not degraded yet.

    Practically, the chances it is needed are dim.
    They could go with B-52 size modern planes with a lot of cargo for ordinances and space for equipment (communication, radars, computers, ECM, ECCM, defensive laser guns, etc.)

    Load up, go near (but not too much) enemy targets and launch everything on the targets. Return back home.
    Alternatively, load up fuel, and circle around some area to patrol and wait for strikes to be requested by ground forces.

    Area destruction is just synonymous of “many targets near each other”. It is way for efficient to target them individually (maybe automatically). Launch a big missiles (from the air platform) that open up on targets and release a swarm of smaller missiles each targeting a different target.

  14. Dirt cheap is relative, of course.

    The good old B2 (which I was actually involved in for a time in my youth) had total procurement costs averaging $929 million per aircraft, which includes spare parts, equipment, retrofitting, and software support, in 1997 dollars (that’s 1.5 billion in today’s money). The B2 program itself cost 40 billion for 20 aircraft.

    It was insane at the time. The only scenario you could ever even try to justify the use of a squadron of these things would be for full-scale nuclear war between two super-powers. Almost none of them were even operational at the time the Berlin Wall came down.

    But consider this from DefenseWeb regarding the B21 bomber cost:

    Citing the need to protect national security, the Air Force has kept secret the value of its 2015 contract award to Northrop Grumman Corp. to continue developing the bomber as well as the estimated total program acquisition and sustainment costs. 

    In other, words, it is SO BAD they aren’t even going to tell us, the taxpayers, how much we are being charged!

    Aside from that, at which I am enormously outraged, the fact remains there is no use for these aircraft. They are too costly (and risky, considering possible air crew and technology captures) to use against a low tech opponent where we have total air superiority.

    And, given that they are nuclear capable, slipping even one into, say, China or Russia, would probably panic them into going nuclear, regardless of what was in the bomb bay.

  15. Except that the B-17 is unlikely to be able to get close enough to any modern defended airspace.

    Though, it might get closer than expected, just because it would take a while for defenders to work out what they were dealing with.

  16. Typically they do the design and build at Edwards near the Lancaster, Northrop and Lockheed facilities there and then they do testing at Groom Lake.

  17. Cool bomber and all, but speed is just as important (if not more so) as stealth, and this is another s-l-o-w bird. We should have easily fielded a hyper-sonic bomber by now, ridiculous.
    Anyone know how many they plan on making?

  18. “Dispositioned” is code for “blow stuff up” in the military 🙂

    A friend of mine who was a ranger told me that him and a handful of other rangers were assigned to inspect a hidden ammo depot when he was stateside but in a “training” phase. When they found the depot, a good chunk of the ammunition was WW2 era .45 acp, 30-06, and .50 BMG. They reported that many of the ammo containers were about to “fail” and their superior (forget the rank) ordered them to return to base, procure the appropriate weapons, and then return to the depot to “dispose” of the ammunition. Over 50,000 rounds of ammunition. For five guys.

    They spent a nice few days deep in the woods of PA drinking beer and disposing of said ammunition.

  19. The reason they would not be dirt cheap is because (and I hesitate to say with certainty bc I haven’t looked into it), but it is almost certainly the case that all of the manufacturing and design resources for the original B-52s are gone, whether it’s people, tooling, or intellectual property. We get obsolescence issues in modern avionics and aviation hardware all the time, not to mention the venerable 60 year old B-52. None of the designs were digital, lots of it is gone, most of the engineers are dead. What they’re doing today is just operations and maintenance. Building more B52s would imply probably 60-75% of all the same startup costs of building any other brand new bomber.

  20. Accuracy of munitions isn’t tied to the bomber. If you get creative, you could drop a GPS guided bomb from a retrofitted B-17. Modern bombers are expensive but that’s not a product of the ability to conduct precision bombing. That’s got nothing to do with the bomber itself. That’s entirely dependent upon the ordnance. Modern B-52s also don’t conduct carpet bombing when they’re used, just because that’s what they did 50 years ago, they carry modern precision guided munitions. I’m pretty sure we converted every last gravity dumb bomb with a JDAM kit back in the 90s, or dispositioned whatever we didn’t think was worth converting.

  21. “There will always be a need for a long range hauler that can carpet bomb with conventional explosives.”
    You don’t carpet bomb without total air superiority. Without that you just need something that can carry a big load to the general vicinity and stay way back out of the engagement area while it releases its guided weapons or drones. We could just build new B-52s with better materials and avionics and such. Tried and tested, they ought to be dirt cheap compared to anything else, even an adapted cargo plane design.

    B-2s and this thing will never be used for carpet bombing.
    What the hell do we need with this cold war relic? Even the fighter planes eventually won’t have people on board. 
    “Well, that might not be feasible for advanced opponents . . . ”
    Seriously, when would you risk flying a manned bomber into China???
    If it wasn’t full on war, you would use something else. This is because you can’t stand the heat of them capturing pilots. Likewise an unmanned weapon could self destruct, either per plan or if shot down, and possibly allow some level of deniability. It’s difficult to imagine a defended target that would not be better bombed in some other way than with a manned vehicle.
    Worse, a near invisible bomber loose in a country’s air-space that is capable of carrying nuclear weapons? If the war wasn’t already full-scale, even a suspicion of this would take it there.

    And if it’s a full on war (but not nuclear)? Build a use case when and where to use it.

  22. Mostly referring to the Air Force’s “black budget” and the fact that extremely advanced aircraft periodically emerge from Groom Lake… which we only find out about a couple of decades after they’ve been built.

  23. They probably not only copied it but are 1/2 way done building it for 1/20th of the cost. ….But I hope you are right and I am wrong.

  24. This is correct however its more an matter of the bomb rather than the plane. B52 are used to drop smart bombs and you could use an far older plane for gps guided bombs as long as you had the programming interface.

  25. For the materials, they just wait till the first one falls down in some war.
    It happened several times in the past.
    For stealth, well the math behind it is actually from a russian scientist.
    Which at the time russia itself though it was a uselles research, a public article about radio wave reflections and some observations on why some planes had a small radar footprint and others where large (trapezium hull shape reduced a lot).
    started the stealth planes research..

    But the math behind it was for computers a bit complex back in that time
    A fun fact initially the math was so complex, the reason the first small bomber was made out of flat areas, round shapes where to complex to solve.
    it looked a lot alike the FMX-4 plane the
    Stealth isnt realy a new thing, its old, the first stealth planes where from wood in WW2

  26. So you are claiming that the US Military industrial complex is MORE advanced and providing BETTER technology than they claim?
    Not saying you’re wrong, but this is the opposite of most random person on the internet claims about them.

  27. Odds that this plane doesn’t already exist in prototype form and that these funds aren’t being used to build something else? Zero.

  28. Or perhaps you have. If it’s a matter of my trust between you or the Air Force, I will go with the Air Force 100% of the time.

  29. Yes, modern high tech bombers are ridiculously expensive.

    Can we come up with any explanation that makes this at all feasible?

    In WW1 bombing of a point target was basically impossible. That’s a “point target”, so a bridge, or a particular artillery battery, not an area target like a trench complex or industrial district. A railroad shunting area is a halfway point.
    In WW2, it took ~ 10 000 bombs (500 lb standard bombs) to destroy a point target. So let’s say 10 bombs/plane, 1000 planes. On average. (Now you see why WW2 tended to go for area targets.)
    in the Korean war, 3000 bombs.
    In vietnam, 700 bombs.
    In the first gulf war, 98% hit rate for the first bomb,
    In the second gulf war, 99.5% hit rate for the first bomb.

    So while the modern bombers are much, much more expensive, they can replace 10 000 B-29s, (including all the crew), at least when it comes to destroying individual things, as opposed to cities.


    • Sometimes you do want to destroy a whole area. Which is why they keep the old B52s around.
    • 1 plane might destroy as many point targets as 10 000 planes, but it still only takes one missile to shoot it down.
    • 10 000 planes can target thousands of targets at once
    • I might have remembered some of those numbers wrong
    • The USAF might have exaggerated some of those results

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