The maiden flight of the first Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider long range strike bomber (LRSB) is expected to take place no earlier than 2022. Once it enters production, its acquisition by the United States Air Force (USAF) could be accelerated to speed up the B-1 and B-2 retirement.

In a live stream with the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute, the 8th Air Force commander Major General Mark Weatherington confirmed that the first B-21, currently under construction, would not fly before 2022. The upcoming strategic bomber was previously expected to take to the skies in late 2021. The slight delay should not affect the aircraft’s development schedule.

Once the B-21 enters production, the USAF could consider accelerating its acquisition to reach an earlier initial operational capability (IOC) date, according to Weatherington. That would allow for the Air Force to retire both the B-1 and B-2 bombers sooner, thus saving on logistics and training. 

The 8th Air Force operates the heavy bomber force of the United States, namely the B-1 Lancer supersonic bomber and the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber that the B-21 is due to replace, as well as the venerable B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber aircraft.

A hundred copies of the upcoming B-21 should eventually be ordered, which is more than the fleets of B-1s and B-2s combined.

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The US Air Force released three artist renders of its future strategic bomber, the B-21 Raider, currently under development at Northrop Grumman. The pictures reveal a few new elements regarding the future replacement of the B-1 and B-2.