(FILES) The United States Air Force B-2 stealth bomber flies by during the 130th Annual Rose Parade Presented by Honda “The Melody Of Life” January 1, 2019 in Pasadena, California. Jerod Harris/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Jerod Harris/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/Getty Images via AFP)
WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) – The US Air Force will on Friday unveil its new B-21 Raider, a high-tech stealth bomber capable of carrying nuclear and conventional weapons and designed to fly without a crew on board.
The B-21 – expected to cost nearly $700 million per plane and the first new US bomber in decades – will gradually replace the B-1 and B-2 planes that were first flown during the Cold War are.
“The B-21 will be the backbone of our future bomber force. It will have the range, access and payload to penetrate the most competitive threat environments and put any target around the world at risk,” US Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told AFP.
The first B-21 flight is scheduled for next year, and the Air Force plans to buy at least 100 planes, Stefanek said.
Manufacturer Northrop Grumman said six of the planes are currently in various stages of assembly and testing at its Palmdale, Calif., facility where the unveiling will take place.
Many details of the aircraft are being kept secret, but the aircraft should offer significant advances over existing bombers in the US fleet.
Among the new capabilities offered by the B-21 is the potential for unmanned flight. Stefanek said the plane was “designated for the possibility, but there was no decision to fly unmanned”.
– “Evolved to Evolve” –
The plane also features an “open architecture” that should allow for easier and faster upgrades.
Amy Nelson, a fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, said the B-21 was “designed to evolve.”
“The ‘open architecture’ allows for the future integration of improved software (including autonomy) so that the aircraft does not become obsolete as quickly,” she said.
“The B-21 is a lot sleeker than its predecessors – really modern. Not only is it dual-capable (unlike the B-2), meaning it can fire nuclear or conventionally armed missiles, but also long- and short-range missiles,” Nelson added.
Like the F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, the B-21 will feature stealth technology that minimizes an aircraft’s signature through both its shape and the materials it is made of, making it more difficult for opponents to fly to discover it.
The technology has been around for decades, but Northrop said the aircraft will feature the “next generation of stealth” and will employ unspecified “new manufacturing techniques and materials” on the B-21.
The “Raider” part of the plane’s name honors the 1942 US bombing raid on Tokyo led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle – the first American attack on Japan’s homeland since the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor the previous year.
© Agence France-Presse