Speaking at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium, U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James unveiled the first artistic rendering of a new long-range bomber and said that the aircraft would be designated the B-21.
The image displayed at the conference shows an angular flying wing, a tailless fixed-wing aircraft with no definite fuselage that very much resembles the Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bomber.
Explaining the close resemblance to the B-2, James notes that “the B-21 has been designed from the beginning based on a set of requirements that allows the use of existing and mature technology.” The artistic rendering is based on the initial design concept, she said.
James also said that she welcomes suggestions from Airmen in selecting a nickname for the new aircraft. “This aircraft represents the future for our Airmen, and (their) voice is important to this process. The Airman who submits the selected name will help me announce it at the (Air Force Association) conference this fall.”
This week, the B-21 also made headlines after the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain told reporters that he would not authorize the new bomber as long as it was procured using a cost-plus contract.
“My biggest concern is the cost-plus provision in the contract. I will not stand for cost-plus contracts,” McCain said. “Somehow the commercial side can do this without a cost-plus contract. It is an evil that has grown and grown and grown over the years, and I will not stand for it on any weapon system,” he added, according to Defense News.
Northrup Grumman emerged as the primary contractor for the new aircraft in October 2015 and was awarded a contract divided into two parts: one cost-plus and one firm fixed price. As I explained previously (See: “Confirmed: Work on the Pentagon’s Top Secret Bomber to Continue”):
The contract awarded [in October] was for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase, a “cost reimbursable type contract with cost and performance incentives,” (…) at an estimated worth of $21.4 billion in 2010 dollars.
The second part of the contract consists of options for the first five production lots to cover the production of the first 21 bombers. The USAF is expected to buy 80 to 100 bombers overall. In current dollars, the price tag for each bomber is estimated at $564 million. (Since few defense analysts expect the Pentagon to buy all 100 aircraft, the per unit cost is very likely to increase.)
The U.S. Air Force plans for an initial operating capability of the B-21 in 2025. The new aircraft will purportedly feature stealth capability, carry both conventional and nuclear weapons, and be optionally manned.