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U.S. Air Force Names B-21 Stealth Bomber ‘Raider’ .....
James Drew - Aerospace Daily & Defense Report (AW&ST) - Sep. 19, 2016
Almost seven months after designating Northrop Grumman’s next-generation stealth aircraft the B-21, U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James said on Sept. 19 it will be called the Raider, in honor of the Doolittle Raiders who took on the Japanese during World War II.
The name came about through a poll of airmen that kicked off in March and ended in May with the winnowing down of potential names to a handful of top submissions.
From more than 4,600 entries, the winning name Raider was revealed by Lt. Col. Richard Cole (ret.) at the opening of the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.
Cole is one of the last surviving Doolittle Raiders, flying as co-pilot in aircraft No. 1.
“From the early days of World War I, our bombers redefined the battlefield. In World War II, the 8th Air Force fleet brought the Nazi war machine to its knees. In the Pacific, the Doolittle Raiders and other bomber crews took the war to the Japanese,” James said during the presentation.
“The heavy bomber became the symbol of American strategic power - always ready and never afraid. Since then, in every single conflict, our bomber airmen have been in the fight. B-52s brought unprecedented firepower to the jungles of Vietnam and we are still flying and fighting with them today. B-1s deliver their massive payloads of precision weapons against any adversary anywhere in the world and our B-2s can hold any target at risk, because an adversary can’t fight what it can’t see.”
There had been speculation that the Air Force’s B-21 name would honor a World War II aerial bombardment type, such as the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-29 Superfortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, North American B-25 Mitchell or Martin B-26 Marauder.
In choosing Raider, the air branch has rejected ghoulish suggestions like Wraith or Spectre as well as tongue-in-cheek nods to the aircraft’s low-observable profile such as Stealthy McSteathface and Dr. Stealthlove.
While no one realistically expected Air Force leadership to settle on oddball names that inevitably result from public polls, a number of sources said Wraith was gaining the most traction internally.
Wraith is already the unofficial nickname of Lockheed Martin’s still-classified RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance aircraft.
The service has already disappointed some observers by choosing the B-21 designation, with many stumping for B-3 as the most natural follow-on to the B-2 Spirit.
The Air Force has previously denied freedom of information requests calling for the list of submissions to be released because the content was “pre-decisional.”
However, the service expects to make all of the proposed names public some time this week.
The B-21 name is important to bomber advocates as they lobby Congress for funding to keep the potentially $80 billion program for 100 aircraft moving forward.
The Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) program emerged in 2010 as a phoenix from the ashes of the Next-Generation Bomber, or “2018 Bomber,” which was terminated the year prior.
Affordability has been one of the driving requirements of LRSB to avoid locking the service into another overblown aircraft program.
The B-2, despite all of its formidable capabilities, was too expensive at $2 billion per copy to sustain production.
The service aims to keep the cost of its new bomber under $564 million per copy and within $23.5 billion for the development phase.
Investment in the intercontinental-range heavy bomber comes after more than 20 years of lopsided investment in stealthy fighter jets, which have relatively short ranges and limited payload capacity.
The Air Force’s youngest bomber is the B-2, which Northrop began designing in 1979 and achieved initial operational capability in 1997.
Production was capped at just 20 aircraft, down from the original requirement of 132, meaning there is no backup inventory and not enough operational capacity to support large-scale combat operations against a potential peer adversary like Russia or China.
Meanwhile, the Boeing B-1B and B-52H cannot get close enough to enemy surface-to-air missiles to conduct direct attacks on critical targets.
The B-2 remains the world’s premier stealth bomber, but after more than a quarter-century in operation, Russia and China will have developed techniques for tracking and targeting it.
The two regional superpowers have also announced plans to build their own modern, nuclear-capable bombers.
Northrop won the B-21 contract in October 2015 over a Boeing-Lockheed team.
Development began in earnest in February after the U.S. Government Accountability Office rejected the losing side’s bid protest.
The aircraft will enter services around 2025.
Air Force Global Strike Command chief Gen Robin Rand says there are 156 bombers in today’s force, of which 96 are combat coded.
He says 100 B-21s is the lower limit of what the Air Force needs to meet U.S. national security strategy, as part of a mix of 175 bombers total.
In 1960, the service maintained 2,000 bombers and 4,300 fighter aircraft.
By 1980, the number declined to 323 bombers and 3,600 fighters.
Now the count is approximately 156 bombers and under 2,000 fighters.
The B-21 continues the legacy of Northrop Corporation founder and famed aircraft designer Jack Northrop, who inspired the Air Force to adopt flying wing aircraft as strategic bombers.
Northrop’s YB-35 flying wing aircraft first flew in 1949 and the B-2 took to the sky in 1989.
While Northrop’s interest in flying wing aircraft predates World War II, homage must be paid to the Nazis’ Horten Ho 229, the world’s first jet-powered flying wing aircraft that flew in 1944 as a glider and was discovered by U.S. forces on their march to Berlin at the close of the war.
The B-21 closely resembles the original B-2 Advanced Technology Bomber design, known as High Altitude Penetrator.