The United States made public its newest stealth bomber last week after years of secret development. The bomber is part of the country’s answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China.
The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years. Almost every part of the program is classified – meaning kept secret from the public.
At last week’s Friday evening event at the Air Force’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, the public got its first view of the Raider. The tightly controlled ceremony started with a flyover of the three bombers still in service: the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit. Then, large doors slowly opened, and the B-21 was partially taken out of a building.
“This isn’t just another airplane,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. “It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love.”
Embodiment means that something is a perfect example of a quality or idea.
The bomber is part of the U.S. efforts to modernize its nuclear abilities, which also include silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched missiles.
The efforts come at a time of fast Chinese military modernization.
China could have 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035. And the U.S. defense department said recently in its yearly China report that China’s gains in cyber warfare, space capabilities and other areas present the most serious “challenge to U.S. national security and the free and open international system.”
Kathy Warden is the chief executive of Northrop Grumman, which is building the Raider. She said the Raider looks like the B-2, but once you get inside, the similarities stop.
“The way it operates” is very complex “compared to the B-2, because the technology has evolved so much in terms of the computing capability ….” Warden said. Other changes include the use of advanced materials to make the bomber harder to detect.
“Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky,” Warden added. “You’ll hear it, but you really won’t see it.”
Six B-21 Raiders are in production. The Air Force plans to build 100 that can carry either nuclear weapons or normal bombs. The plane can also be deployed with or without a human crew.
Both the U.S. Air Force and Northrop also point to the Raider’s relatively quick development. The bomber went from contract award to public appearance in seven years. Other new fighter and ship programs have taken over 10 or 20 years.
The cost of the bombers is unknown. The Air Force previously put the price for a buy of 100 aircraft at an average cost of $550 million each in 2010 dollars. That amount represents around $753 million today. Still, it is unclear how many bombers will be built.
“We will soon fly this aircraft, test it, and then move it into production. And we will build the bomber force in numbers suited to the strategic environment ahead,” Austin said.
The Raider will not make its first flight until 2023. However, using advanced computing, Warden said, Northrop Grumman has been testing the Raider’s performance using a digital copy of the one that was shown to the public.
Dan Grazier is an expert at the Project on Government Oversight. He warned, “It’s easy to say that the B-21 is still on schedule before it actually flies. Because it’s only when one of these programs goes into the actual testing phase when real problems are discovered.”
I’m John Russell.
Tara Copp reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
stealth – adj. used to describe military aircraft that are designed so that they cannot be easily seen by radar
silo – n. an underground structure that is used for storing and firing a missile
challenge – n. an invitation to compete in a game, fight, etc.; an attempt to defeat someone in a competition
contract – n. a legal agreement between people, companies, etc.
strategic -- adj. of or relating to a general plan that is created to achieve a goal in war, politics, etc., usually over a long period of tim
flight -- n. a journey on an airplane
schedule -- n. a plan of things that will be done and the times when they will be done
phase – n. a part or step in a process : one part in a series of related events or actions