Weapon Systems

Rapid testing of B-21 Raider set to usher in new era of capabilities


The B-21, the world's first sixth-generation aircraft, will enter service in the mid-2020s, allowing the US and allies to evade even the most sophisticated air defense systems.

Share this article

A B-21 Raider conducts ground testing, taxiing and flying operations. [US Air Force]
A B-21 Raider conducts ground testing, taxiing and flying operations. [US Air Force]

Flight testing of the B-21 Raider, the US Air Force's next-generation long-range stealth bomber, is under way, with the aircraft set to usher in an era of new capabilities that will enable it to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world and evade even the most sophisticated air defense systems.

The Air Force introduced the B-21 in December 2022, and it plans to acquire 100 of the aircraft, with the first entering service in the mid-2020s.

The US government approved production of the Raider last fall after successful tests, a decision underscored by the Air Force's commitment to bolster its deterrent capabilities against adversaries such as Iran and its proxies.

The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office has set an unconventional strategy for its acquisition that focuses on making test aircraft as production representative as possible.

Test aircraft are being built on the same manufacturing line and utilize the same manning and tooling that will be used in production, enabling production to start more quickly.

There are currently five to six known B-21s in various stages of completion.

Technology leap

The B-21 is capable of delivering both conventional and thermonuclear munitions, and is designed to accommodate manned or unmanned operations. Additionally, it will be able to employ a broad mix of stand-off and direct-attack munitions.

It will be the world's first sixth-generation aircraft, allowing advanced integration of data, sensors and weapons. The B-21 is also rapidly upgradable to outpace evolving threats.

The Raider's advanced stealth features enable it to effectively penetrate sophisticated enemy air defenses, allowing it to conduct long-range, deep-strike missions with a high likelihood of survival.

By contrast, the nearest competitor, Russia's PAK DA, appears to be in a mockup testing phase and not yet in flight testing. Designed to carry conventional, nuclear and hypersonic weapons, it mimics the B-21 in design and functionality.

The Russians hope the PAK-DA will enter mass production by 2027, but given their history of slow weapon rollouts, "that timeline feels overly optimistic," reports The National Interest on March 14.

Sanctions resulting from the Ukraine war have impeded development of the PAK DA, say analysts.

"Clearly, Russia wants the PAK DA. However, I have no idea how they could afford it," a former aviation expert told the National Interest in an article published May 20.

"I would also add they don't have the microchips needed to make this work or technology due to sanctions related to the Ukraine war."

"For now, the PAK DA, I would argue, is just a dream."

Do you like this article?

Captcha *


Very beautiful! I like it!