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Marles hints RAAF could buy B-21 Raider bomber

written by Adam Thorn | August 27, 2022

Defence Minister Richard Marles has given his strongest hint yet that Australia could purchase the in-development B-21 Raider.

In an interview with The Australia yesterday, he was reported to have said the next-generation stealth bomber was “being examined”.

It comes days after US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall surprisingly said his country would be “willing to talk about anything that there was an interest in from the Australian perspective that we could help them with”.

The B-21 is the ‘sequel’ to the UFO-like B-2 Spirit, which can carry nuclear weapons and costs $2 billion each.


Introduced in the late Eighties, the batwing bomber is seen as the US’ most prestigious and prized aircraft, with only 20 in active service.

It come weeks after five of the originals arrived at Base Amberley for a month of training with RAAF F-35s, in what was certainly its biggest ever deployment to the region.

Marles also hailed the introduction of the F-35 to the RAAF’s fleet to replace its Classic Hornets, which were in service since 1985 and retired in late 2021.

He said the fighter had proved itself to be “indispensable” and “can just do things the Super Hornets can’t”.

“It is an utterly essential component to our air force and the potency of our defence force,” Marles added.

The RAAF currently has 50, but its fleet will grow to 72 as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program, with all expected to be fully operational by 2023.

Thus far, the fighters have clocked in excess of 15,000 flight hours and have already achieved initial operational capability, making it combat-ready.

The aircraft comes in three variants: the F-35A — purchased by Australia — is a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) version; the F-35B is a short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, and the final F-35C is the carrier type (CV).

Marles was speaking en route to visit the RAAF in the Northern Territory as they take part in exercise Pitch Black alongside 16 other nations.

The training program will be mostly based in Base Darwin and Base Tindal and is scheduled to last from 19 August until 8 September.

It comes ahead of the new federal government’s Defence Strategic Review, which will decide whether to expand the F-35 fleet to 100 and also examine whether Australia should replace its outgoing Taipans with Black Hawks.

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Comments (15)

  • Bill


    Do it. Just do it.

  • Rocket


    This would be an excellent move. We’d only need 6 or 7 or maybe 12 and it would fill a gap that has never been filled, but the rhetoric of the Howard-era insisted was, by the pitiful F-18F, which had no capability whatsoever, compared to the F-111.

  • phodge


    Utterly ridiculous! As a staunch Labor supporter, I’m astounded that Marles should make such a suggestion. Oz does NOT need fancy planes such as this, any more than it needed the F35A’s (not even F35B’s) which the previous Oz Tory government ordered for its air force. What it needs are patrol planes, like the P8, or better, which can cover the country’s massive coastline.

    • chris


      The fact that even Marles HAS indeed made this suggestion shows just how critical (and effective) is the notion of Deterrence. It arguably is working right now in the context of Taiwan. The fact that it is so effective as a policy is the reason it is an anathema to the left. Policy failure is like oxygen to them…

  • Lee McCurtayne


    Australia is sadly lacking platforms that represent a solid “Deterrence”, much in the vane of the former F-111. The ability to strike thousands of kilometres away and still remaining off the radar. Bases that currently existing on our shores are already being primed for this platform.
    Yes not cheap, but ticks all the boxes over nuclear subs. Bang for buck, in that 3 or 4 of these machines would h@ve a devastating against major threat. This is a platform that fits neatly into the “Loyal Wingman” program, giving unmatched potential and depth. H@ving this type network capable pieces would give any potential foe something to mull over before doing anything rash. Just having a weapon of this caliber is brilliant value over conventionality.

  • Gordon Mackinlay


    A bigger bang for your buck, comes to mind. These are a nuclear attack weapon, but, in theory can carry 24 2,000 pound gravity bombs or 16 or 18 guided weapons. In regard to missile weapons, who knows what would available in the mid 2030’s when it would be in service. And Australia will never have nuclear weapons, even if you could get past the political barrier, the USA would not supply them to a country that Australia will be in the 2030’s. It is proposed to have the first flight in 2023, with development to take some seven years, in 2010 it was expected to cost 550 million USD, today they believe about three billion USD, in 12-13 years only those with a crystal ball could give a cost. Maintenance is expected to make F-35 maintenance costs look like petty cash, while all other costs, missiles, ground maintenance facilities etc also would not come cheap. And unless the Australian education system improves in the next 13 years, training the necessary ground personnel will be a nightmare. Air crew will not be needed as the current US thought is have the B-21 unmanned, so there will be a saving there. As for the F-18F being pitiful, rather silly comment. The F-111 when it finally came into RAAF service was quite spectacular, by 1991, its non-upgraded 1960’s avionics make it totally useless to take part in the Gulf War, by 2003 Charlie Brown in his Sopwith Camel would have been more effective.

    • Bruce


      They will likely carry the AGM-158C LRASM or similar (such as the NGLAW Tomahawk successor) and be used mainly for maritime strike. They are fundamentally a deterrent. Gravity bombs would potentially make them vulnerable by putting them in visual range.

  • Mike S


    Absolutely a great move. Lets not go through the whole air version of the submarine debacle. You get what you pay for and the US is our greatest Defense partner…for a very long time. Get the order in yesterday.

  • Kw


    It is difficult to see what role the B21 would fill. We would be better off with F22 or 4th generation interlinked with F35. The F-18 is quite capable but needs longer legs, the F-111 would have needed airframe, engine, and other system üpdates which would reduce cost effectiveness.

    • Clint


      The problem is that F35 and even F22 are not long range strike platforms. The F22 isn’t even a strike plane, it’s primary role is air superiority. Yes you can extend an F35s range with refuelling tankers but then the tankers are highly vulnerable while airborne too. It is proposed that a squadron of 12 B21 bombers would cost the equivalent of two submarines. At any given moment in time 8 would be available for strike missions. They can fly four to five times the range of F35s with one stealth bomber being capable of carrying the equivalent payload of eight F35 launching multiple long range strike missiles. One bomber teamed with a support flight of mq28 Ghost Bats would create an absolute headache to an adversarial navy. A squadron of bombers would be supported by roughly the same number of people as would be required to man 2 nuclear subs. The trick would be where would we house, secure and support what would be a huge strategic asset

  • Andrew S


    Not hard at all to see what role a proposed B21 would play. It would give our P8’s and Tritons some serious backup for maritime strike, allow us to quickly respond with a long range stealthy land attack capability with a new generation of munitions far more timely than nuclear attack submarines that take longer time to be on station and even longer time to rearm after firing off a load of Tomahawks. and provide serious punch with a capability we haven’t had since the F111.

    The Super Hornet provided a good stepping stone to the F35, and was arguably the better aircraft to select. The addition of the Growler another string to the bow. Not an F111, but then again..not many of todays aircraft are !

    The F22 has never been an option available to us. Nor does it have the land or maritime attack capability we need.

    4th Gen linked to F35’s while capable and possible…a stepping stone.

    Airliner based patrol planes are fine to find and seek hostiles conducting long range patrols, but wanting if they actually need to prosecute multiple hostile surface targets that they have found that have the capability to shoot back.

    Add an indigenous hypersonic missile capability and the use of long range combat UAV’s,and have nuclear subs lurking further off the coast to cause even more mayhem. We haven’t had such serious punch capability since the F111. It would be a serious deterrent that would allow us to regain that edge in SE Asia that we used to have when we had the Pig.

    • Bruce


      The P8 is a sub hunter. Although it can be used for an anti-surface role it is too vulnerable.

      The E-7 Wedgetail is suitable for long range detection of hostile aircraft and surface vessels, but can’t engage.

      But the F35 and Super Hornet are too short ranged for genuine standoff deterrence against hostile maritime forces. That’s where the B21 would fit in. The capacity to directly attack enemy military bases, say at the distance of the South China Sea, would also be important.

      Get them!

  • Bruce


    Australia and our regional neighbours will grow increasingly vulnerable in the coming decades. We don’t have an effective deterrent other than our alliance with the US.

    The B21 would be an effective standoff independent deterrent against China in the absence of the SSNs. It would fill an essential capability gap while we wait, and supplement the SSNs when they arrive. And it would more than replace the capability lost when the F-111 was retired. It would provide a genuine maritime standoff strike capability at much greater range than the F-35 and far less vulnerable than the P8s – which it will complement. Many of our Pacific neighbours would be in range of the B21 providing an effective umbrella against Chinese interference, reinforcing Australia’s implicit security guarantee, and distant Australian islands like Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling Islands would also fall within its range.

    A squadron of at least 12 and ideally 15 to 16 – to allow for attrition – would be appropriate. And it would be much cheaper than the SSN program, although not a substitute.

    I hope the yanks are willing to sell them to us.

    • Clint


      The US Congress has already indicated that they are willing to sell a squadron of B21 aircraft to Australia should Australia decide to purchase them. This indicates that Australia has already expressed interest in their purchase at some point previously. The Congress wouldn’t just randomly raise this on their agenda for no reason.

  • Col Bishop


    Well using the F35 as a bomber is like using a Spitfire to conduct the Dambuster raid. WE need 16 to 20 B21’s

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