Northrop Grumman has announced that it is expecting the first low-rate production contract for the B-21 Raider strategic bomber to be awarded by the end of 2023.
The plan is tied to hopes that the new bomber will conduct its maiden flight by the end of the year.
The company has laid out its expectations in a press call following the reveal of its 2022 financial results, media outlets have reported.
According to AirForceTimes, Northrop Grumman admitted to suffering from inflation, supply chain problems and labor issues, which led to the increase in the bomber’s price.
However, even after said increase, the price is still below the government’s estimates, the company said.
The B-21 Raider, an upcoming strategic stealth bomber expected to replace the B-2 and the B-1 in the service of the US Air Force, was rolled out in December 2022.
The rollout and maiden flight of the aircraft have been set back by several delays. However, Northrop Grumman claims that the project remains under budget, a unique case for a development of this scale.
USAF plans to purchase at least 100 B-21s, although this initial number may be expanded further.
The jet – heralded as ‘the first sixth-generation aircraft’ by Northrop Grumman – is said to feature advanced stealth characteristics and a host of other improvements in comparison with its predecessors.
Several prototypes are currently in various stages of production, the company said. The B-21 is planned to acquire initial operational capability by 2030.