The US Air Force and Northrop Grumman have published photorealistic renderings of new concepts for the next-generation stealth bomber, the B-21.
The B-21 was expected to reach IOC (initial operating capability) in the mid-2020s but there was a recent statement by Global Strike Command chief Gen. Robin
Rand that IOC might slip to late-2020s. The history of US military systems means that they get a handful before 2030 and are working out problems from 2030-2035.
The main technical risk is less around trying to take the best current stealth coatings and technology to make a better stealth bomber. The Air Force leadership would know the progress in current stealth technology.
The main technical risk for this program is making the software and the networking systems modular and upgradable and to make them work well in the first place. They want these to be flying sensors and communication stealth command centers.
B-21 is being acquired through nontraditional means, using the Air Force’s Rapid Capability Office instead of a standard dedicated program office. Nextbigfuture Translation – This should mean they are taking technology that is ready without further development.
The B-21 development is being conducted through a cost-plus-incentive-fee development contract followed by firm-fixed-price procurement. Nextbigfuture Translation – This means that the current cost estimates are garbage and that there will be price inflation and the US tax-payer will get ripped off. The US tax-payer will be lucky if these things cost less than $2 billion each.
The B-21 would not be used for any meaningful military operations until after 2035 unless there was an emergency where the regular B-2 and F-22s were inadequate.
The current plan is to buy 100 bombers but this could be increased.
Leading Edge of Stealth – Flying Sensor and Communications Nodes
* B-21s would initially replace the fleets of B-1 and B-2 bombers, and could possibly replace B-52s in the future
* The FY2020 budget request included $3.0 billion for further development of the
B-21. As passed, the FY2019 defense appropriations bill funded the program at $2.28 billion.
* It will be part of a family of systems, and that other unspecified programs would support the bomber in operation. It will be the node of a larger, distributed network of sensors and communications, not all of which may have been publicly disclosed.
* It will have an open architecture that will allow new sensors or other subsystems from various vendors to be easily integrated into the aircraft. As a result, the initial B-21 aircraft can be augmented more easily as advanced technologies are developed; it also means that what might otherwise be expensive development of advanced sensors and/or other subsystems may be deferred and/or competed independent of the aircraft itself.
The B-21 was designed around three specific capabilities:
1. A large and flexible payload bay capable of carrying a full range of current and
2. Range (although classified).
3. Projected average procurement unit cost of $550 million per plane in FY2010 dollars, which was announced publicly to encourage competing manufacturers to constrain their designs.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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