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New U.S. stealth nuclear bomber starts flight tests in key milestone

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 14: The Northrop Grumman logo flashes up on a display screen on day one of the DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment International) exhibition at ExCel on September 14, 2021 in London, England. The four day event sees over 1,000 defence, technology and security manufacturers display their latest developments to Governments and security companies from around the world. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)  (Leon Neal)
By Tony Capaccio Bloomberg

The United States’ newest stealth bomber, Northrop Grumman Corp.’s B-21 Raider, conducted its first test flight, a key milestone in the $203 billion program that’s meant to stay well ahead of China’s technological advances.

The new phase “is a critical step in the test campaign to provide survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks,” according to an Air Force statement. Flight testing includes ground testing, taxiing and flying operations.

The distinctive batwing-shaped B-21 is on track for delivery to Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota in the mid-2020s, the service said. Six test aircraft are being made now on the same production line that will be used for combat-ready aircraft, – a process praised by lawmakers and the Government Accountability Office because it improves manufacturing and cuts down on costly retrofits.

Video footage of the B-21 posted on social media by The Aviationist showed the B-21 streaking at low altitude across a clear blue sky, its engines roaring, accompanied by a conventional fighter jet.

The B-21 is an essential part of the Pentagon’s plan to counter China as the US’s primary global challenger, and succeeds the similarly shaped but much larger B-2, which dates to the 1980s. The new plane is designed to carry both nuclear and conventional precision-guided long-range munitions and possibly operate in tandem with drones.

The Air Force and Northrop unveiled the B-21 in December with a ceremony attended by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

First flight was to occur earlier this year but slipped several months, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in March. Major weapons programs have benchmarks meant to impose discipline on cost, schedule and performance to insure taxpayer dollars are well-spent and would trigger notification to Congress if breached.

The B-21’s average procurement price per plane has remained below its $550 million target measured in fiscal 2010 dollars. If adjusted for inflation, the equivalent is about $692 million in fiscal 2022 dollars.

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