The B-21: What to Know About an Amazing Plane

Ryan Heuchert, Staff Writer

As technology progresses, so do the flying capabilities of the United States Air Force’s (USAF) planes. This is proved with their latest airplane, which is still in the works. Named in honor of the legendary Doolittle Raiders, the B-21 Raider is a stealth bomber being designed to fly high and hit targets. The B-21 additionally introduces new features that incorporate more software and requires less maintenance. 

The History of the B-21: 

The name, the B-21 Raider, was selected to honor the Doolittle Raiders, a team of 16 bomber planes who flew a risky, yet critical bombing over Japan during World War 2. The man who led the bombing run was none other than Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Jimmy Doolittle.  

According to the USAF website, “The Air Force awarded the B-21 Engineering and Manufacturing contract to Northrop-Grumman on October 27, 2015,”. In 2018, the B-21 passed the Critical Design Review. The Air Force said this test was an “evaluation of design maturity, stability and risk.” 2021 was a big year for the B-21. After passing several processes, such as the Environmental Impact Statement, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota was named the first operating base of the B-21s.  

The Design and Features of the B-21: 

 With the B-21 Raider being the future of military planes, new features and technology come along with this bomber. One of these new features is designing the plane to require minimal maintenance. In 2021, Breaking Defense, a digital magazine that covers military news, did an interview with Steve Sullivan, the vice president of a division within Northrop Grumman. Sullivan says this is a lesson learned from past stealth bombers: “Early stealth aircraft have required extensive resources, including specialized personnel with unique training, and aircraft hangars… Northrop Grumman continues to invest in digital tools, modeling and processes that have been instrumental in reducing our lifecycle maintenance footprint.” 

 Another feature of the B-21 is that the design for the software is an open system architecture approach. According to the Defense Standardization Program (DPS), Open System Architecture, “uses a system architecture that allows severable major system components at the appropriate level to be incrementally added, removed, or replaced throughout the life cycle of a major system platform to afford opportunities for enhanced competition and innovation.” In other words, the parts of the software are added to the plane in increments. DPS says this system saves money and makes modifying or updating software easier. Sophomore Presley Boetcher says this software can be used for “locating targets, helping us find directions, and locate enemy planes.” 

The B-21 is heavily influenced by another stealth bomber, the B-2 Spirit. An article from explains that the B-21 Raider has the same exterior design and speed as the B-2, but the B-21 is smaller. The USAF website has also said this new bomber will be capable of carrying both nuclear and traditional weapons. 

The Purpose of the B-21: 

The B-21 has a couple of purposes, the most important one is to update the current bomber of fleet. adds that the bomber fleet “consists of an odd mishmash of three Cold War aircraft. The B-52 Stratofortress has served in the USAF since the 1950s… the B-1B Lancer, developed in the 1970s… Finally, the B-2 Spirit”. Another reason for designing a new plane is to have an aircraft that can hit long range targets, providing an attack with conventional or nuclear weapons. 

The Future of the B-21: 

The Air Force has stated they plan on manufacturing 100 B-21s. An article from Bloomberg reports, “The service has estimated that the B-21 is likely to cost at least $203 billion to develop, purchase and then operate 100 aircraft over 30 years.” Although the military is willing to spend the money, other people understand, but don’t agree with the use of the money. Senior Doetri Ghosh says, “I do think there are other things we could probably be spending that money on. Again, the political situations do require that we have certain military advantages.” 

Opinions on the B-21 Raider: 

As expected, the public has mixed opinions on the B-21. On one hand, some people expressed concerns about the bomber’s quantity, expenses, and nuclear capabilities. Junior Elijah Marucheck says, “Designing and building 100 of them is telling the world, ‘Hey, look at us. We have 100 nuclear weapons.’” On the other hand, some people believe the development of the B-21 is important. Junior, Aidan McKee says he believes more than 100 B-21s should be manufactured: “I think we need more [bombers] to hit more targets.”  

The United States Air Force understands their planes must advance if they are to keep the fleet strong. The B-21 does not just show strength through the arsenal. This stealth bomber is proof that there is always room to improve and design complex machines to be simpler. With an increase in the use of software and striving to create an aircraft that is smaller than the current bomber and easier for crews to maintain is remarkable.