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    B-21 Raider: A Strategic Necessity or a Costly Redundancy?

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    The U.S. Air Force’s development of the B-21 Raider stealth bomber and the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter continues to raise eyebrows and fuel debates among military tech and politics enthusiasts.

    Against a backdrop of existing advanced air power, the urgency of these projects reflects the Air Force’s commitment to maintaining an edge over global adversaries.

    The NGAD promises to surpass fifth-generation fighters like the F-22 and F-35 with features such as enhanced stealth and sensor fusion.

    America already possesses a powerful fleet of bombers. The B-52 has been in operation for seventy years and is planned to continue serving for another thirty.

    The B-1 Lancer remains a capable swept-wing bomb truck. Additionally, the B-2 Spirit was the world’s first stealth bomber and remains the only one in the world.

    Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit AV-2, ‘Spirit of Arizona’ – 82-1067” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Despite already boasting the most advanced air force in the world, the U.S. continues its quest for air dominance with the B-21’s development.

    The program’s secrecy and its significance in the modernization of U.S. air power come at a time when long-standing service airframes approach obsolescence and potential adversaries are not standing still. As “the world’s only stealth bomber”, the B-2’s unique capabilities are beyond dispute, but it is also aging and limited in numbers.

    The B-21 is not just another asset; it is designed to be a leap forward, featuring the ability to penetrate advanced air defense systems with survivable, long-range striking power—a necessary evolution given the advancements in adversary air defense technologies.

    Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman, underlined the importance of the B-21, saying it is essential for “providing survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks against the United States, allies, and partners.”

    Furthermore, the fiscal sensibility of the B-21 program appears to be upheld, as Frank Kendall, the Air Force secretary, indicated cost negotiations are “going in the right direction,” a relief given the historical exorbitance associated with stealth technology and the B-2’s infamous $2 billion per unit cost.

    It suggests a balancing act between capability and affordability, with a keen eye on ensuring that other critical program aspects, such as training and support infrastructure, are not overlooked.

    The B-21’s role extends beyond mere firepower; as a part of the U.S. nuclear triad, it reinforces the strategic deterrence posture of the country.

    While ICBMs and nuclear submarines are crucial elements, the flexibility and recallability of bombers make them an indispensable component.

    Retired Air Force Colonel Mark Gunzinger emphasizes that, without the B-21, there is no viable “Plan B” to deter conflicts at the scale necessary to meet National Defense Strategy requirements.

    The U.S. Air Force manages the delicate transition to a more advanced fleet, the procurement of the B-21 has been adjusted to reflect favorable negotiations on low-rate initial production prices, and the platform’s development “continues to make progress” with test flights at Edwards Air Force Base.

    Relevant articles:
    Is the U.S. Air Force’s NGAD Fighters and B-21 Bombers Worth the Cost?, The National Interest
    US Air Force reports lower B-21 costs after negotiations with Northrop, Defense News
    21 stealth bomber “continues to make progress”, Airforce Technology
    B-21 Raider: Does America Really Need This Expensive Stealth Bomber?, The National Interest

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