Air Force B-21 Stealth Bomber Approved for Low-Rate Production

B-21 Raider at Northrop Grumman’s Plant 42 Facility. Image – Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman received a low-rate initial production (LRIP) contract from the Air Force to build the B-21 Raider according to Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante. During a January 22nd statement, LaPlante announced that “production of the B-21 ‘Raider’ is moving forward.”

The statement, which did not include details about the value, production timeline, or aircraft order numbers, closely follows news of the B-21’s second confirmed test flight. An initial production contract likely inked before the end of 2023, was expected following the successful completion of the Raider’s first test flight, which occurred on November 10th. Northrop Grumman will hold its 2023 fourth-quarter results call on January 25th, during which details could be released.

During the third quarter of 2023, Northrop Grumman reported profit growth of 2 percent from 2022 at $937 million. However, CEO Kathy Warden previously revealed the company is unlikely to see an early profit on the B-21 LRIP contract and could lose up to $1.2 billion on the deal.

But the B-21’s continued progress represents a bright spot for Northrop Grumman and the DoD. While other military aircraft acquisition programs are experiencing quality control issues, delays due to supply chain disruptions, and cost overruns, the B-21 program remains relatively stable and tracking well according to initial plans.

The progress comes at a critical time for the Air Force and DoD as the B-21, set to replace the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers by 2040, represents a significant investment in a capital platform sorely needed to offset threats in the Indo-Pacific. The highly classified nature of the project means few details exist, but the Raider will afford strategic planners a long-range, air defense-penetrating, stealth asset to balance power in the region.

The aircraft is projected to achieve operational status in the mid-2020s, and Air Force officials previously stated a goal of procuring at least 100 bombers. The first production aircraft will enter service at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. While flight testing activities continue on the first test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Northrop Grumman’s Plant 42 is building at least five additional aircraft. One of those bombers will likely be the first production bomber off the line.

About Jon Hemler

A former naval officer and helicopter pilot, Jon covers a range of Forecast International reports and products, drawing on his 10-year background in military aviation, operations, and education. His previous military assignments include multiple overseas deployments supporting operations in the Arabian Gulf, NATO exercises, and humanitarian missions. Jon’s work is also influenced by his time as a former Presidential Management Fellow and international trade specialist at the Department of Commerce. Before joining Forecast International, Jon also served as an NROTC instructor and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Texas, where he taught undergraduate courses on naval history, navigation, defense organization, and naval operations and warfare. A lifelong reader and learner, his academic and professional interests include aviation, political and military history, national defense and security, and foreign area studies.

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