The B-21 Raider Is In Low-Rate Initial Production

Northrop Grumman has built the first B-21 test article with production representative processes, materials and tooling, a key to the overall program execution strategy. (Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman)

The contract, whose details were not disclosed, was awarded last fall after the first flight of the B-21 Raider.

William LaPlante, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment, said on Jan. 22, 2024, that Northrop Grumman has been awarded last fall the contract for the Low-Rate Initial Production of the new B-21 Raider stealth bomber. While the Pentagon did not release the contract’s details, it appears that it was awarded shortly after the beginning of flight testing.

“This past fall, based on the results of ground and flight tests and the team’s mature plans for manufacturing, I gave the go-ahead to begin producing B-21s at a low rate,” said LaPlante. “Production of the B-21 ‘Raider’ stealth bomber is moving forward.”

The news about the LRIP contract is in line with what was already expected, as Northrop Grumman said the award was expected immediately after the first flight. The company also mentioned it planned LRIP at a zero profitability due to higher labor costs and inflation, but added the bomber would become profitable once it reaches full rate production.

“One of the key attributes of this program has been designing for production from the start – and at scale – to provide a credible deterrent to adversaries,” added LaPlante. “If you don’t produce and field to warfighters at scale, the capability doesn’t really matter.”

The number of aircraft covered by the first contract was not disclosed, although some reports at the time of the first flight said it could cover up to 21 aircraft. At the time of the first flight, Northrop Grumman said six airframes were in various stages of production, including the one already flying.

“As shared by the U.S. Air Force, the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider has entered low-rate initial production,” said Northrop Grumman in a statement. “Our team received the contract award after B-21 entered flight testing within the program baseline schedule. Our production representative test aircraft indicated readiness for production, achieving all flight performance and data requirements.”

As you may recall, the first B-21 Raider, which was named “Cerberus”, took to the skies for its first flight from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale at 6:51 a.m on Nov.10, 2023. The U.S. Air Force has been tight-lipped about the status of the secretive aircraft since then, with no further statements released to the press or photos of the bomber’s first flight and arrival at Edwards Air Force Base.

Last week, however, the service acknowledged that the flight test campaign is proceeding, after a possible safety chase aircraft was spotted on flight tracking website with the callsign “Raider”. A spokesperson confirmed, in fact, that the bomber flew on Jan. 17, adding that the service is not going to not provide further details related to the test program to include the number of flights the aircraft has flown.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.