The U.S. Air Force now has at least five Prototypes of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber in a process of final assembly.
Speaking during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space, & Cyber Conference, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall confirmed that five Raiders were now taking shape at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.
These aircraft are part of the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) batch, funded under the Long-Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) contract.
Sources familiar with the development of next-generation bombers said the B-21 Raider would be fitted with advanced radar that will be provided air-to-air capabilities. For air-to-air defense, the new bomber also would be added capability to carry air-to-air missiles.
We still do not know exactly how many aircraft the USAF expects to receive as part of the EMD phase of the program, a validation period that occurs before full-rate production, but this is the most information about this particular aspect that has been released to date.
The Air Force eventually hopes to take delivery of nearly 150 of the new stealth bombers. The program is said to be on a budget and relatively close to being on schedule, overall.
Six aircraft were also built during a similar phase of the B-2 Advanced Technology Bomber program, and these planes ended up being a major portion of the tiny fleet of 21 that ended up being built. There were additional ground test articles, as well.
Last year, the service announced the B-21’s first operational base would be at Ellsworth and would also host the bomber’s first formal training unit. Whiteman and Dyess are expected to receive B-21 Raiders “as they become available,” the service said at the time.