In the interests of the US Air Force, Northrop Grumman is building the B-21 Raider, an experienced long-range missile bombers. Earlier it was reported about the assembly of the first aircraft of this type, and recently it became known about the start of work on the second. However, the construction is faced with certain difficulties, because of which the delivery of equipment and its first flights can be postponed to a later date.
"Looks like an airplane"
The first official reports on the construction of an experienced B-21 appeared back in October 2019, then the head of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (AFRCO) Randall J. Walden announced the start of work. Construction has begun at Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif. And is being implemented by Northrop Grumman. Without going into details, the head of the Department said that some of the components and assemblies were already ready and submitted to the assembly shop.
The AFRCO chief noted that it will take less than two years to build the plane, and then it will be shown to the public. A few months after the "premiere", the first flight should take place. At that time, it was planned for December 2021, but R. Walden expressed concern that these dates would have to be shifted to the right.
In August last year, R. Walden again spoke about the successes achieved. He informed about the continuation of supplies of various components and assemblies used in construction. Assembly of the first B-21 continued, and it already looked like a finished aircraft. There were some difficulties, but they coped with them. However, concerns were again expressed regarding the previously announced timing of the first flight.
A few days ago, the American specialized media circulated new statements by R.J. Walden. This time he said that the construction of the first prototype aircraft continues, but has not yet reached the final assembly. At the same time, the car is more and more consistent with the design appearance.
Construction has also begun on a second B-21 airframe for future static tests. It will be tested on a stand under various loads to determine the real strength characteristics. During the assembly of the first aircraft, the aircraft builders gained some experience, which now facilitates the work on the second. The build is faster and more efficient, although no deadline has been announced.
B-21 bomber in the hangar of Ellsworth airbase - while in the artist's view
Some of the tests of the onboard equipment for the B-21 have already been completed. The equipment was tested at ground stands and at flying laboratories. The desired results have been obtained, and in the future it can be put on an experienced bomber. The high availability of avionics will, to some extent, simplify the general testing of the B-21.
The timing is shifting
Even when the contract for the development of the project was signed, the end of 21 was named as the dates for the first flight of the experienced B-2021. In the fall of 2019, AFRCO, in charge of the work, began to doubt the feasibility of such plans. The events of the last year did not have a fatal impact on the construction processes, but nevertheless lead to new negative forecasts.
Talking about the construction of two gliders, R. Walden pointed out that the first flight in December 2021 is possible only with the ideal course of events. Taking into account the recent processes, the start of flights should be expected only by the middle of next 2022.
A few days ago, the Air Force's Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration, Lieutenant General James S. Dawkins Jr., clarified plans for the serial construction and deployment of promising bombers. The first units on the new B-21 will reach operational readiness in 2026-27. Shortly thereafter, the structure of the park aviation will change dramatically as modern Raiders replace a number of outdated vehicles.
Back in 2019, the Air Force command revealed general plans for the basing of new aircraft. Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota is proposed as the main airfield for them. Now there are B-1B bombers, which are planned to be decommissioned as new equipment arrives. It is also possible to deploy B-21s at Dyce bases in Texas and Whiteman (Missouri). In this case, the Raider aircraft will also replace the old B-1B.
On January 11, the Air Force held a meeting on the construction and deployment of B-21 aircraft. The Army Corps of Engineers and commercial contractors are reported to have defined the overall infrastructure for the bombers and are working on related designs.
It is planned to build hangars at air bases for storing equipment with reduced visibility for surveillance equipment. Also, hangars with a variety of equipment for servicing equipment and a separate wash for aircraft are needed. The plans provide for a major renovation of existing facilities for planning and control of combat work, or the construction of new ones.
Proposed hangar design by the United States Air Force and Burns & McDonnell
Ellsworth and Dyce air bases have some of the necessary infrastructure, which will greatly simplify their preparation for the deployment of the B-21. Construction work has not started yet. The relevant organizations should complete the design and prepare the environmental impact documents. Then the Air Force command will make the final decision and approve the start of construction.
Plans for the future
The Air Force command is working on a program for the further development of strategic aviation, and the B-21 aircraft is a key element of it. Plans for the construction of such equipment were formed and received the necessary approval. However, certain problems and difficulties may persist.
From the mid-twenties to the late thirties, Northrop Grumman will have to build and transfer up to a hundred new aircraft to the Air Force. Thus, by the middle of the next decade, the B-21 will become the most massive long-range bomber in the United States, bypassing the number of other types of equipment.
Earlier, the Air Force command noted that according to the results of the implementation of plans for the construction of B-21, the total number of strategic bombers will reach 175 units. However, later the desired size of the group was revised. In April last year, the leadership of the Air Force Global Strikes Command expressed a desire to increase the fleet to 220 aircraft.
This number of long-range aviation can be obtained by modernizing and extending the service life of existing B-1B and B-52H aircraft. In addition, the fundamental possibility of increasing the order for promising B-21s over the planned 100 units is not excluded. However, over time, the old equipment, despite all the renewal processes, will have to be written off, which will lead to a new reduction in the number of bombers.
Today and tomorrow
The promising bomber B-21 Raider is considered as a key component of the development program for long-range aviation and strategic nuclear forces in general. Deliveries of serial vehicles of this type will begin in a few years and will continue until the end of the next decade, which will lead to the most serious consequences for the Air Force.
However, such results are still a matter of the distant future. At the moment, the main task of the Pentagon and Northrop Grumman is the completion of the first flight prototype and airframe for static tests, as well as subsequent tests in the air and on the stand. Obviously, these tasks will be successfully completed - but the exact timing of their completion is still in question.