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New photos released of B-21 Raider

written by Adam Thorn | September 13, 2023

Northrop Grumman has unveiled two new images of the in-develop B-21 Raider as the aircraft begins a new round of testing at the prime’s facility in Palmdale, California.

The sixth-generation bomber is currently undertaking engine testing, described as an “essential milestone” on the path to an eventual first flight.

Unveiled in December last year, the B-21 Raider is the ‘sequel’ to the UFO-like B-2 Spirit and is designed to silently strike deep behind enemy lines with its 9,500 km range and advanced stealth capabilities.

Manufacturer Northrop Grumman has previously said the world has “never seen technology” like it has developed for the bomber, while US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has claimed it’s so advanced that even the most sophisticated air defence systems wouldn’t be able to detect it.


It comes after the Australian Federal Government surprisingly ruled out buying the B-21 Raider in its much-anticipated Defence Strategic Review.

Instead, the RAAF will invest in next-generation, long-range missiles that will be fired by Australia’s fleet of 72 F-35s and 24 Super Hornets.

“The review has undertaken detailed discussions in Australia and the United States in relation to the B-21 Raider as a potential capability option for Australia,” said the report.

“In light of our strategic circumstances and the approach to Defence strategy and capability development outlined in this review, we do not consider the B-21 to be a suitable option for consideration for acquisition.”

In place of its purchase, Australia will invest in Raytheon’s Joint Strike Missile (JSM) alongside Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).

JSMs are designed to be fired from fifth-generation F-35s and are significantly able to change course in flight. They differ from more regular missiles because they can fly at low altitudes where they can evade radars.

Raytheon says the JSM, which has a range of 275km, is the only fifth-generation cruise missile designed to be launched from the internal weapons bay of the F-35A.

Lockheed’s LRASMs, meanwhile, with its range of 560km, use “semi-autonomous guidance and target cueing data” to locate and destroy targets. Unlike the shorter-range JSMs, they can be fired by both F-35s and Super Hornets.

The news that Australia will favour missiles over long-range aircraft came despite Defence Minister Richard Marles previously saying that purchasing the B-21 was “being examined” and US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall suggesting his country would be “willing to talk” about a deal.

Think tank ASPI (The Australian Strategic Policy Institute) had estimated, though, that acquiring a fleet of 12 B-21s would cost Australia up to $28 billion.

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Comment (1)

  • Greg Timbs


    So lets get this straight… The Defence Stratgic Review placed a premium on long range strike to engage our enemies further from Australia.

    JSF combat range, air-to-surface interdiction mission (without air-to-air refuelling): 1,239km.
    JSM range: 275km. LRASM range: 560km.
    Total strike package range: 1,514km – 1,799km.

    B-21 range: 4,000km, NOT including the range of air-to-surface missiles above, o the larrger and longe range ASM’s it will likely be ablle to carry. B-21 payload: Several times a JSF’s. B-21 airspeed: Classified but lets assume subsonic to retain stealth, the same as JSF, 0.73M (= 775kmh groundspeed at 40,000ft).

    Virginia-class nuclear sub speed: 46kmh (possibly more).

    Transit time to launch point 4,000km away, in a B-21 at 775kmh: 5.16 hours.
    Transit time to launch point 4,000km away in a sub at 46kmh: 89 hours (or less).

    Not acquiring the B-21 makes perfect sense.

    Orca, the world’s first Extra Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (XLUUV). Cost for 5 recently blew out from $274 million to $621 million (so let’s say $124 million each). Range: 6,500km. Time on station: several months.

    $360 billion for 12 manned nuclear submarines, which may or may not be obsolete by the time we finally get them.
    That’s $30 billion per sub. Overly simplistic I know. But…

    We could have a squadron of B-21’s, with the firepower of several squadrons of JSF’s, for the cost of one sub, with $2 billion in change to arm them.

    And for the cost of another sub, we could have 240 Orca or similar XLUUV’s, or say 200 plus the mines, missiles, torpedoes, surveillance / EW modular packages to arm them.

    An Orca can be lowered into the water at a jetty by a crane. A nuclear sub will require a major deepwater port. There is likely to be only one main nuclear sub base: Port Kembla.

    By the time we get all of our 12 nuclear subs, it’s estimated that China will have 70. And an unknown but likely huge number of XLUUV’s, quietly stooging around narrrow and shallow transit points in Southeast Asia or just off Port Kembla, just waiting for a nuclear sub to pass by…

    For a strike mission, a B-21 fills the range gap between subs and JSF’s, and provides greater response time.
    I suggest there’s a case for NOT having 12 eggs in one basket, and perhaps diversify our risk by acquiring 10 nuclear subs instead, plus 12 B-21’s & payloads and 200 Orca XLUUVs or equivalent & payloads.

    We’re already spending too little on Defence. If as Defence claims, subs will only be 4% – 7% of total Defence budget over the timeframe of the capability, why not shell out for B-21’s and XLUUV’s as well? And while we’re at it, un-cancel our $1.2 billion order for our first ever strike drones, the mid-level mid-range MQ-9 SkyGuardian/Reaper?

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