Northrop Grumman Corp is set to roll out the first plane in a new fleet of long-range stealth nuclear bombers for the United States Air Force at a ceremony in Palmdale, California on Friday.
Similar in shape to the B-2, a "flying wing" design already in the Air Force's inventory, the B-21 "Raider" will also be able to deliver nuclear weapons around the world because of long-range and mid-air refueling capabilities.
Each B-21, which can deliver both conventional and nuclear bombs, was projected to cost approximately $550 million each in 2010 dollars, or about $750 million in today's inflation-adjusted dollars. The Air Force planned to buy at least 100 of the planes and begin to replace B-1 and B-2 bombers.
Northrop beat out a team comprised of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp when it won the 2015 contract to make the bomber alongside suppliers including engine maker Pratt & Whitney, Collins Aerospace, GKN Aerospace, BAE Systems and Spirit Aerosystems.
Northrop is calling the plane a sixth generation aircraft given its ability to connect to other aircraft and easily integrate future weapons into its systems architecture. It also features more durable stealth-enabling low observable surface material that will require less maintenance and keep operations costs and downtime to a minimum, Doug Young, sector vice president and general manager at Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, told Reuters in an interview.
The rollout at Northrop's Plant 42 in Palmdale will provide the first photographs of the new bomber. So far, only artist renderings have been published.
Six of the planes, which is to have its first flight in mid-2023, are in various stages of assembly. More than 8,000 people from Northrop Grumman, industry partners and the Air Force work on the program today which consists of more than 400 suppliers in 40 states.