The US has given its biggest hint yet that it would be prepared to sell the B-21 Raider to Australia after it emerged the Chief of the RAAF was invited to its unveiling.
Air Marshal Robert Chipman described the ceremony in California, hosted by Northrop Grumman last weekend, as an “awesome display of US innovation”.
The B-21 is the ‘sequel’ to the UFO-like B-2 Spirit and is designed to silently strike deep behind enemy lines with its 9,500km range and advanced stealth capabilities.
The US is set to purchase 100, but some analysts have suggested the country wouldn’t part with the secrets to the aircraft set to be the talisman of the American military.
Northrop said the world had “never seen technology” like it had developed for the bomber, while US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin added it was so advanced that even the most sophisticated air defence systems wouldn’t be able to detect it.
“It is a testament to America’s enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation,” he said. “And it’s proof of the Department’s long-term commitment to building advanced capabilities that will fortify America’s ability to deter aggression, today and into the future.
“This isn’t just another aeroplane. It’s not just another acquisition. It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love. It’s a testament to our strategy of deterrence — with the capabilities to back it up, every time and everywhere.”
At the ceremony, it was also confirmed that Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota would be the aircraft’s home, with each model now expected to cost US$695 million.
Northrop was first awarded the contract for the B-21 in 2015, and its development team includes more than 8,000 people from the prime, its industry partners and the US Air Force.
In August, Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said purchasing the B-21 was something that was “being examined” while US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall suggested his country would be “willing to talk” about a deal. Any final decision, however, would likely be made by President Joe Biden.
The dramatic reveal in California on Saturday, which you can watch here, represented the first time the “sixth-generation” aircraft had been seen outside artists’ impressions and the first unveiling of a new US bomber in more than 30 years.
“The specific B-21 unveiled on 2 December is one of six under production,” said the US Air Force. “Each is considered a test aircraft, but each is being built on the same production line, using the same tools, processes, and technicians who will build production aircraft.
“This approach has enabled production engineers and technicians to capture lessons learned and apply them directly to follow-on aircraft, driving home a focus on repeatability, producibility and quality.”