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The B-21 Raider, the Air Force's new nuclear stealth bomber, takes flight for first time

Air Force unveils B-21 Raider, new stealth bomber
Air Force unveils B-21 Raider, new nuclear stealth bomber 00:32

The B-21 Raider took its first test flight on Friday, moving the futuristic warplane closer to becoming the nation's next nuclear weapons stealth bomber.

The Raider flew in Palmdale, California, where it has been under testing and development by Northrop Grumman.

The Air Force is planning to build 100 of the warplanes, which have a flying wing shape much like their predecessor the B-2 Spirit but will incorporate advanced materials, propulsion and stealth technology to make them more survivable in a future conflict. The plane is planned to be produced in variants with and without pilots.

"The B-21 Raider is in flight testing," Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.

Such testing is a critical step in the campaign to provide "survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks against the United States, allies, and partners," Stefanek said.

United States Bomber First Flight
The B-21 Raider stealth bomber is unveiled at Northrop Grumman, Dec. 2, 2022, in Palmdale, Calif.  Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years, and almost every aspect of the program is classified. Both Northrop Grumman and the Air Force have tried to protect the program's details to prevent China from gaining access to the weapon's technology and building a similar version, as it has with other U.S. advanced weapons systems like the F-35 joint strike fighter.

At the bomber's unveiling in December, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the range of the B-21 is unmatched by any other bomber. 

"It won't need to be based in-theater, it won't need logistical support to hold any target at risk," the secretary said. 

Austin said it will be difficult for adversaries to detect the stealth aircraft. 

"Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft," he said. "Even the most sophisticated air-defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky."

The Air Force said the "B-21" designation was chosen because the aircraft is the first new bomber of the 21st century, while the name "Raider" was selected to represent the Doolittle Raiders, who flew a surprise attack during World War II.

The B-21 is part of the Pentagon's efforts to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched warheads, as it invests in new weapons to meet China's rapid military modernization.

Northrop Grumman Corp. is based in Falls Church, Virginia.

U.S. unveils new nuclear stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider
The U.S. Air Force on Dec. 2, 2022, unveiled the B-21 Raider in Palmdale, California. It is the first American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years.  U.S. Air Force
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