Northrop Grumman’s much anticipated B-21 Raider stealth bomber is making good progress and should fly in December 2021, USAF Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen “Seve” Wilson said in Washington, D.C.

According to a report in Air Force Magazine, Wilson was speaking at an AFA Mitchell Institute event in Washington, D.C., on deterrence and the need to modernize nuclear command, control and communications.

He said the service continues to analyze its capacity for long-range strike and is “focused on the development of the new bomber as well as modernizing the B-52,” with new engines and radar.

“We’re exploring the force structure between the B-1 the B-2 and the B-52,” he said.

“The general consensus is, we don’t have enough long range strike capacity, and that came out in ‘The Air Force We Need,’ ” study the service published last September.

Wilson said he was at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Melbourne, Fla. in the last few weeks, “looking at the B-21,” and said the company is “moving out on that pretty fast … don’t hold me to it, but it’s something like 863 days to first flight.”

That would put the first flight of the B-21 in December 2021. 

Air Force Magazine asked Wilson why the service has not advanced the planned number of B-21s, given the acknowledged shortfall in bomber capacity. 

“That’s exactly what we’re looking at,” Wilson replied, as well as “what the right balance” will be as B-21s come online.

The service has yet to decide if it will extend the B-1 and B-2 bombers—slated to retire in the early 2030s—to increase the bomber fleet or simply go for an all B-21 and B-52 fleet. 

The venerable B-52, commonly referred to as the “Buff,” took its maiden flight in April 1952, serving the USAF faithfully for nearly 67 years. It continues to be a valuable asset in America’s military arsenal.

Wilson also said that while the Air Force “isn’t going to get any new B-52s,” AFGSC might still take “one or two more out of the boneyard.” 

The Air Force has kept tight hold on details related to the Raiders development, keeping most of its budget in the “black” or classified.

A tailless, batlike aircraft, the official rendering of the B-21 Raider released by the Air Force bears a superficial resemblance to the B-2 Spirit bomber, The National Interest reported.

There are important distinctions, however, along with new software, sensors, weapons, computers and avionics.

The B-21 moves its engines closer to the wing root, where they occupy the juncture between wing and fuselage, whereas the B-2’s twin pairs of General Electric F118-GE-100 engines are distinctly apart from the fuselage on the wing, the report said.

Also, the Raider’s engine air intakes are angled and not serrated like those on the B-2 Spirit. The Raider also has overwing exhausts to mask the infrared signature of the four engines, unlike the B-2.

In the nuclear mission, the Air Force will arm the B-21 with the Long-Range Stand-Off missile, the next-gen stealthy nuclear cruise missile. It will also carry B-61 free-fall nuclear gravity bombs.

A combination of these two weapons will allow the B-21 to use its stealthy cruise missiles to clear a path through the enemy air-defense network before dropping bombs on primary and secondary targets.

For conventional missions, the B-21 will carry the JASSM-ER conventional cruise missile and two-thousand pound GBU-31 Joint Directed Attack Munition satellite-guided bombs.

Military experts say the bomber’s weapons bay could end up being more of a mission payload bay, with surveillance, communications, drone or electronic warfare packages loaded inside to facilitate a variety of missions — putting the Raider on the path to being America’s first multirole bomber.

It is not known if the B-21 will feature the same electrogravitic antigravity technology that is long-rumoured to be utilized on the B-2, but it will likely have advanced stealth technology to counter the latest Russian and Chinese-built air defenses.

In effect, the B-21 mission will be to fly into heavily-defended enemy airspace, detect and destroy targets and leave without an enemy ever knowing they were there.