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What Is the B-21 Bomber? Air Force Announces Bases for America’s Newest Warplane

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Concept art of the B-21 stealth bomber, which is expected to be introduced to the U.S. Air Force in the mid-2020s. Northrop Grumman

The Pentagon has announced three bases that will host America’s newest warplane—the B-21 "Raider" stealth bomber.

The next-generation strategic stealth bomber will be sent to Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri when the new aircraft are deployed in the mid-2020s, Air Force Times reported.

The decision will be finalized next year assuming the plan is compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulations.

The Northrop Grumman-engineered Raider is being added to the Air Force’s existing strategic bomber fleet, made up of the B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft. It will replace the B-1 and B-2 platforms by the end of the 2030s, with the B-52 expected to operate past 2040. 

The B-21 is expected to be in the air by 2025 and ready for combat by 2030. The bomber's long range and a low radar signal will be facilitated by its sweeping contours and low profile, similar to that of Northrop Grumman's B-2 Spirit. Capable of carrying conventional and nuclear weapons, it will become the backbone of the U.S. strategic bomber arm. Air Force officials have even said it will have the ability to fly unmanned missions.

Northrop Grumman was awarded an $80 billion contract to build 100 of the futuristic bombers in October 2015. Air Force officials say this number could eventually go up to 175 or even 200 planes. The development process has been shrouded in secrecy as the military strives to keep details out of its rivals hands. The project has been so covert that even Congress has been kept in the dark. Even today, only concept art images of the bomber are available.

In February 2016, then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the B-21 will allow the Air Force to launch from the continental U.S. and deliver airstrikes on any location in the world. Its stealth design will allow it to navigate the most advanced enemy defense networks.

Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft system is considered to be at the forefront of defensive technology. Moscow claims it has been designed to intercept any existing stealth aircraft, but the Air Force will be working to ensure that the B-21 can outfox it, especially with the S-400 now being sold to other nations.

GettyImages-2407597 The B-21's design will look similar to the B-2 spirit, shown here flying over Edwards Air Force Base in California on August 14, 2003. U.S. Air Force/Getty Images

The B-21 has been designed to hide in the background noise picked up by all radar networks, much like submarines are designed to blend into the ocean’s background noise. Low-frequency radar is used to tell defenders that an aircraft is in the vicinity, and high-frequency radar is used to target the intruder. The B-21 will be designed to avoid both types. It is likely that the aircraft will also have electronic countermeasures to disrupt enemy detection systems and will be upgraded as new technology becomes available and new threats appear.

The Raider will be sent to the Edwards Air Force Base in southern California for testing. In March, Brigadier General Carl Schaefer, the commander of the 412th Test Wing said, “Edwards has been the home of bomber test and now we also can publicly release that the B-21 is coming to Edwards and we will be testing it here in the near future.”

The aircraft is named after the World War Two-era Doolittle raiders who carried out bombing missions over the Japanese archipelago in April 1942. The operation was the first time U.S. forces hit back against the Japanese home islands after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

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