The world’s first ‘sixth generation’ stealth aircraft was unveiled in December when Northrop Grumman and the US Air Force rolled out the first B-21 Raider at the company’s Palmdale, California, facility. ‘The B-21 Raider forms the backbone of the future for US air power, leading a powerful family of systems that deliver a new era of capability and flexibility through advanced integration of data, sensors and weapons’, said a Northrop Grumman press release, which added ‘its sixth-generation capabilities include stealth, information advantage and open architecture.’

That open architecture means the airframe can evolve with new technology and weaponry as they become available and stay in touch with other assets in the process. “The B-21 is capable of networking across the battlespace to multiple systems, and into all domains,” said a company spokesperson, adding “supported by a digital ecosystem throughout its lifecycle, the B-21 can quickly evolve through rapid technology upgrades that provide new capabilities to outpace future threats.”

There are six B-21s currently in production and the Pentagon has promised to buy at least one hundred of them. They are expected to enter service in two to three years, and although the B-21 may look a lot like a B-2, it is much more advanced. “The real differences are inside of the platform, because you can think about how much digital technology has progressed since the time we built the B-2 and the time we built the B-21,” said Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden.

The aircraft will begin flight testing later this year at Edwards Air Force Base.

PHOTO: Northrop Grumman