At the Air Force Association's Air, Space, and Cyber Conference at National Harbor, Maryland, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has christened the US Air Force's next generation Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) the "B-21 Raider." Formally designated the B-21 earlier this year to reflect the aircraft's status as the first bomber of the 21st century, the addition of "Raider" refers to the famous Doolittle Raiders of World War II and was selected from 2,100 unique submissions.

In attendance at the announcement was retired Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. Cole, the last surviving crewmember of the Doolittle Raid (aka the Tokyo Raid) against Japan on April 18, 1942. In this action, sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers lifted off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and flew without fighter escort to drop bombs on the Japanese home islands before carrying on to land in China and the Soviet Union.

Though the bombs had very little impact, the raid was a strong morale booster for Allied forces and forced the Japanese to reinforce home defenses – especially when President Roosevelt implied that the Doolittle raiders took off from a secret base in "Shangri-La."

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announces the name of the Air Force's newest bomber, the B-21 Raider, with the help of retired Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cole, one of the Doolittle Raiders, and Technical Sargent Derek White(Credit:  U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

The B-21 Raider

Scheduled to enter service in the mid-2020s, the Raider will be able to take off from the continental United States and strike targets anywhere on Earth. It's intended to replace the Air Force's aging fleets of B-1, B-2, and B-52 strategic bombers, which, according to James, have an average age of 27 years.

Built by Northrop Grumman under an initial US$21.4 billion development contract, the Raider carries nuclear and heavy conventional payloads and can counter next-generation anti-aircraft systems. Under current plans, 80 to 100 raiders will be built though the 2040s in five tranches of 21 aircraft at an estimated cost of US$511 million each. To reduce costs, it will use existing technology where possible.

Though its specifications are still highly classified, the Raider is expected to be able to handle strategic bombing, tactical bombing, and global strike, surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence, and electronic attack. However, in an interview with Defensetech, General Robin Rand, commander of AFGSC, denied rumors that the B-21 will be man-optional, citing the aircraft's dual conventional/nuclear capabilities and his personal desire to keep a "man in the loop." However, the bomber could operate with unmanned systems.

Source: US Air Force

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