The U.S. Air Force has revealed the first image of its future Long Range Strike bomber: the B-21

Feb 26 2016 - 22 Comments

Here is the Northrop Grumman B-21, quite similar to the Northrop Grumman B-2.

On Feb. 26, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James revealed the first artist rendering of the Long Range Strike Bomber, an aircraft built by Northrop Grumman and designated the B-21, at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

The aircraft, that was not given a name yet, is going to be the first stealth bomber of the 21st century: it will supplement the B-52, B-1 and B-2, with the latter (another Northrop Grumman design) sharing much resemblance with the future LRS-B.

In particular, the aircraft seems to be designed around a standard flying wing: neither a “cranked kite” nor a kite like those seemingly spotted over the Wichita and Amarillo back in 2014.

As you probably remember, on Mar. 10, 2014 Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett took the photographs of three mysterious planes flying at very high altitude over Amarillo, Texas.

The three unknown planes looked like boomerang-shaped plane.

About one month later (on Apr. 15), Jeff Templin shot a triangular plane over Wichita Kansas.

Among the theories around both episodes there was the one that the aircraft were LRS-B prototypes. But according to what was unveiled earlier today there no prototypes of the next generation stealth bomber and its shape is going to be much different from that of the aircraft flying at high altitude over the U.S. in 2014.

Hence, the mystery around those sightings remains.


Image credit: Sammamishman based on Muskett and Templin shots

“The platforms and systems that made us great over the last 50 years will not make us great over the next 50,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said during his testimony on Capitol Hill Feb. 10. “There are many other systems we need to either upgrade or recapitalize to ensure viability against current and emerging threats… the only way to do that is to divest old capability to build the new.”

There are no existing prototypes of the B-21, most of its capabilities are still unknown even though the aircraft is (obviously) believed to embed cutting edge technologies and sensors and to be cyber-resilient against the threats of the future interconnected world.

The artist rendering released on Feb. 26 is based on the initial design concept: this means the actual plane may be considerably different.

The Air Force plans to field the initial capability of the aircraft around 2025.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

  • prowneratty

    “B-21”? Who lets this stuff happen? If the program is delayed 8 decades, will it become the B-22? If the Air Force wants something twice as good as that, will some power-tie civilian assistant program manager designate it the “B-42”? Seems like tanker guys are the only ones who still understand the designation system. Does Deborah Lee James understand it?

    • sferrin

      Who let’s it happen? Same people who didn’t have the spine to tell Mr. “Uhhhhh the F-35?” he was wrong. No, the X-35 doesn’t become the F-35 just because it’s the design that got selected. Should have been the F-24. (Well, in all honesty the Super Hornet should have been called the F-24 but that’s another rant.)

      • E1-Kabong

        Well said.

        The “F/A-18E/F” designation was merely USN subterfuge to get a brand new design past the Pentagon without having to do an open competition.

  • McPosterdoor

    Next time pencil in some exhaust slats Air Force or you’re not getting off the ground.

    • disqus_STXkrV9NGc

      No exhaust slats = no infrared signature. The Air Force is ahead of the game, my friend.

    • sferrin

      See the first released image of the B-2. Same thing. See the first public showing of the F-104. Same thing.

  • Tom Jones

    I was personally expecting a larger number that 21. But I’m an Aviation Enthusiast who will happily follow the matter in the future, I’ll leave the naming job to the professionals.

  • Guest

    Never mind the weird designation, I like its connection with history and Hollywood.
    Since the press inevitably refers to stealth bombers as “bat-shaped” and it’s the B-21, we’re now have Bat-21… ;)

  • InklingBooks

    The naming is odd. B-21 strikes me as coming in line just after the B-17 but before the B-24. It’d have made more sense to continue the current B-1 and B-2 tradition and called this one the B-3. Then again, this is the Pentagon. The name-approvers are perhaps the same generals who wanted to drop the most useful aircraft the USAF has, the A-10.

    • Larry Roach

      Respectfully disagree regarding the A-
      10, but I’m not going to hijack the thread with an off-topic rabbit hole discussion.

    • sferrin

      It’s not “tradition” it’s the official numbering convention for nearly a century. After the fubar with the X-35/F-35 nonsense they apparently threw it out. As for the A-10. . .bah, hah, hah, hah. Let’s see it intercept a Bear bomber. Let’s see it attack anything in contested airspace. Let’s see it fly CAP. Yeah. It’s a one-trick pony that can only perform when nobody real is shooting at it.

  • Jan Schmidt

    next bomber will have Mach 5 at least, combined with stealth und a large missile/bomb load … until it is feasable, money will be poured into jobs at northrop in a kind of B-2 v2.0 plane
    it is the way “pork barrel politics” in USA works – money donated to politicians get you contracts that are spread in voters states

    • franciwzm

      Dreaming? Just BAE is working on an hybrid jet-ramjet engine, and anyway mach3 would be more then enough to give unstealthy figthers capability to attack sam400 batteries with conventional weapons (non standoff)..Furthermore i do not even try to imagin fule consumption and then autonomy at those speeds! During the seventies soviets have laucnhed handreds of missiles towards he blackbirds overflying russia and nobody get hit not because of stealth but because of speed: mach 3 is more then enough to evade a mach 5 missile if you do not dare flying exactly at his azimut.
      A mach1 1,5 supercruise would ne more then enough to be able to evade conventional fighters and weak even more long range sam batteries.

  • Tawse

    Sounds more like software version designations when a newer version of the software is more of an update than a complete new version.

    If you think of the B-2 Spirit as the B-2.0 version then this ‘new’ bomber is probably just a major ugrade so hence B-21 or B-2.1

    Larger payload, newer stealth, etc, etc. I don’t see it as a new bomber but more a major update of the current B-2 to do the things that the B-2 can’t currently do.

  • Mr. Culper III

    LRSB. Like six months of teasing by the Air Force and finding out their “supermodel” is really a 40 year old plus sized model. Just as disappointing as this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover.

  • Spookee

    That is the 1st look at the B-2 back in 1988. I was puzzled by the lack of exhaust area. I thought it’s underneath or built into the trailing edge. It turned out it was just airbrushed to protect the exhaust trough design that the B-2 has. The B-21 or B-2.1 or B-2 +1 = B-3 is going to look different than the artist impression but not by much.
    The original B-2 trailing edge design was just like the B-21. Then they put saw tooth on it.

  • Spookee

    After nearly 30 years of B-2 we know almost nothing about it’s true capabilities. One secret is it’s true cruise altitude which is greater than 70,000 feet.

  • Spookee

    The B-21 will have a laser canon. It will have defensive/offensive capabilities. It will be able to cruise at extremely high altitudes and will have anti-satellite/ballistic missile capabilities as well as the lower stuff including ground targets. Its a kinetic/non-kinetic warfare battleship.

  • I don’t envision this program being the success that they want. It see it being another B-2 with only a handful made after deep budget cuts, cost overruns, and compromises on mission parameters – not unlike the F-35 program. If they want to replace the B-52 with this platform they’re going to need something robust and less groundbreaking. As much as “stealth is the future,” we don’t necessarily need an ultra-stealth platform to replace the B-52 as we already have the B-2, which doesn’t operate until air superiority and SEAD/DEAD objectives are complete anyway. Truth be told, there is enough merit in the 1,001 proposed upgrades, updates, and modifications to the B-52 going back several decades that can revitalize the airframe and platform to make it an even more capable and robust bomber.

  • disqus_STXkrV9NGc

    Maybe they called it “B-21” because it’s B-2.1

  • Reinaldo Art

    It demonstrated that, B2 design is successful. There will be new materials, new construction processes, new capabilities, new weapons, another turn of the screw. Russian add patches to the Tu-160 while studying how to make aircraft invisible, finally, it is likely that they can make a bunch of invisible planes because its price will be unaffordable.

    • franciwzm

      Ahhh! Great ! I agree…Don’t forget S400 cnaa detect (50% probabilities) a boeing sized rcs plane ike sukhoys Su serie 400km far ! Such as f22 AESA !