The maiden flight of the first Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider long-range strike bomber (LRSB) will not occur earlier than 2023.
No reason was given for the delay, first revealed by a U.S. Air Force spokesperson to Air Force Magazine. The upcoming strategic bomber was previously expected to take to the skies in late 2021, before being postponed to 2022.
“The B-21 program continues to ensure the first flight test aircraft is a high-quality build and production-representative, in order to drive an efficient flight test campaign and rapidly field this critical combat capability,” the spokesperson told Air Force Magazine.
Six B-21 bombers are reportedly being assembled at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California. One was rolled out of the assembly line in mid-March 2022 and entered the ground test phase.
The B-21 is expected to enter service by 2026, incrementally replacing the B-2 Spirit and the B-1 Lancer strategic bombers. The USAF eventually expects to operate a two-bomber fleet of B-21s and modified B-52s. It intends to order 100 of the strategic bomber, which is more than the fleet of B-1s and B-2s combined.
While the exact capabilities of the aircraft are still unknown, it is expected to be smaller and lighter than the B-2, as reflected by a lower price per unit. In 2010, the USAF revealed it expected a cost of $670 million per B-21, against $1.250 billion for the B-2 [prices adjusted to 2020].