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When the B-21 Raider rolled out of the shadows and into public view for the first time last month, the strategic bomber instantly transmitted a tangible and unambiguous message. The batwing, stealth aircraft is a striking validation of our efforts to do whatever is necessary to protect the United States and its interests. It provides visual proof that our nation’s technical prowess remains unrivaled and that we can accelerate change and mindfully prepare to deter, meet, and blunt threats now and in the future.
The first new strategic bomber since the late 1980s, the B-21 Raider is an essential upgrade to our inventory; it will become the backbone of our bomber operations, possessing the capabilities needed to penetrate the most highly contested areas and hold any target around the globe at risk.
This capability is needed to address the pacing, acute, and unforeseen challenges of the future. A new bomber is critical for deterring adversaries, reassuring our allies, and keeping our nation safe. Designed to operate in tomorrow’s high-end threat environment, the B-21 will play an important role in ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability.
The B-21 will also play a critical role in a modern nuclear triad, strengthening deterrence against strategic attacks on the U.S., our allies, and partners, as part of “integrated deterrence” — our nation’s unified and consolidated effort to project strength in a way that keeps the peace, as described in the National Defense Strategy.
Yet, for all its apparent capabilities, the B-21 is just as impressive for its less visible and obvious — but equally important — attributes.
The B-21 Raider is a product of partnerships bringing together experienced military and industry professionals to build an adaptable bomber using innovative manufacturing techniques and open systems architecture. Unlike earlier major weapon systems development, the U.S. government and the Air Force own the rights to the software at the heart of the B-21. This will allow us to rapidly integrate new technologies in response to future threats as they emerge across the spectrum of operations at less cost than before.
Furthermore, the program invested in test infrastructure early to drive discovery out of the flight test program and into labs and test beds where discovery and resolution can be most effective in both cost and time. Since the start of the program, due to the innovative approaches and strong partnerships, the B-21 has remained under its cost targets.
While cost is an important consideration, ensuring the B-21’s relevance well into the future is key to integrated deterrence. Building on lessons learned from previous programs, the B-21 is designed from the ground up to mesh seamlessly and effectively with the highly data-driven nature of warfighting that continues to evolve. The B-21 and its associated family-of-systems will fit into the emerging joint all domain construct of command and control, which means its effectiveness and deterrence value will be considerable and long-lasting.
The B-21 Raider is the right capability at the right time, much like its renowned predecessors the B-17, B-29, and the venerable and still formidable B-52. The B-21 shares a proud lineage with the B-1 and B-2, platforms it will gradually replace over the coming years.
The U.S. remains secure because innovative, hardworking Airmen and industry partners are collaborating to envision, design and build aircraft like the B-21.
Along with the public rollout of this new bomber — this new instrument for deterrence and peace — we can be thankful for the service, ingenuity, and dedication of Airmen who will use this state-of-the-art airpower capability to protect our nation for decades to come.
Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., is chief of staff of United States Air Force.