The U.S. Air Force plans to retire its fleet of Rockwell B-1B and Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bombers in a “Bomber Vector” roadmap that will be laid out in the coming weeks.
As Northrop’s next-generation B-21 “Raider” comes online in the mid-2020s, the Air Force wants to phase out the nuclear-capable B-2 and conventional B-1, according to two sources with knowledge of the budget discussions.
The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is a heavy bomber under development by Northrop Grumman. As part of the Long Range Strike Bomber program (LRS-B)
It is to be a very long-range, stealth strategic bomber for the United States Air Force capable of delivering conventional or thermonuclear weapons.
The bomber is expected to enter combat service by 2025.
Read more: Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit Bomber
It is to complement existing Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber fleets in U.S. service and eventually replace these bombers.
The Air Force initial plans are to acquire a minimum of 80 to 100 LRS-B aircraft at a cost of $550 million per unit (2010) and envisions some 175 to 200 to be in service eventually.
The Air Force is planning to acquire a new long-range fighter, known as “Penetrating Counter-Air” (PCA), that would accompany the B-21 Raider deep into enemy territory.
The new fighter, of which few details are known, would help the bomber survive enemy air defenses.
Final assembly of the B-21 is expected to take place at the United States Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, at the same facility used during the 1980s and 1990s for Northrop B-2 production.
Northrop Grumman was awarded a $35.8 million contract modification for a large coatings facility set to be completed in 2019.
Journalists touring Plant 42 reported that “while Northrop would not specify that they planned to produce the B-21 at that location, officials were all but winking and nodding at the subject.”