February 26, 2016…..from Mike Martin, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs:
WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James revealed the first rendering of the Long Range Strike Bomber, designated the B-21, at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium Feb. 26 in Orlando, Fla., and announced the Air Force will be taking suggestions from Airmen to help decide the name of the bomber.
“This aircraft represents the future for our Airmen, and (their) voice is important to this process,” James said. “The Airman who submits the selected name will help me announce it at the (Air Force Association) conference this fall.”
While there are no existing prototypes of the aircraft, the artist rendering is based on the initial design concept. The designation B-21 recognizes the LRS-B as the first bomber of the 21st century.
The reveal comes just weeks after both James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III delivered the fiscal year 2017 posture statement before the Senate Appropriations Committee, making it clear modernization is a top priority for the Air Force.
“The platforms and systems that made us great over the last 50 years will not make us great over the next 50,” Welsh said during his testimony on Capitol Hill Feb. 10. “There are many other systems we need to either upgrade or recapitalize to ensure viability against current and emerging threats… the only way to do that is to divest old capability to build the new.”
James said the B-21 will allow the Air Force to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, and give the Air Force the flexibility and the capability to launch from the continental United States and deliver airstrikes on any location in the world.
James also explained why the B-21 shares some resemblance to the B-2.
“The B-21 has been designed from the beginning based on a set of requirements that allows the use of existing and mature technology,” James said.
The program recently entered into the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase and the Air Force plans to field the initial capability of the aircraft in mid-2020s.
Airmen — Active, Guard, Reserve and civilian — should stay tuned to AF.mil and Air Force social media accounts for more information on how to submit their ideas.
Update: B-21 (Northrop Grumman) literally a “B-3:
The following is from Jamie Hunter “America’s New Bomber” – – Combat Aircraft Monthly – – January 2016:
In recent months, photos of something in the air over Texas and Kansas have been put forward, giving every appearance of depicting heretofore unknown unconventional aircraft, perhaps two distinct types, flying in broad daylight. Said aircraft appear to be of flying wing configuration, but possibly not B-2s, the only other large flying wing known to be in existence. The Kansas aircraft in particular appears to resemble somewhat the long-cancelled A-12 Avenger II, with a straight trailing edge. While the photos could be of B-2s at such an angle that their distinctive batwing silhouette is distorted (indeed, that is apparently now the official USAF explanation) the sightings come at a time when many believe the US has at least one or more large secret aircraft either close to flying, or already under test.
A quick sketch showing a strictly hypothetical configuration for an possible “black” aircraft seen recently
So, What are the Candidates?
RQ-180: as yet unacknowledged by officialdom, yet widely believed to exist, the RQ-180 is the designation thought to be associated with a large, low-observable UAV, probably built by Northrop Grumman. The logic behind such a program seems straightforward – the RQ-4 Global Hawk has provided high altitude surveillance capability since the start of the century, but as planning shifts away from fighting counter-insurgency wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the Global Hawk has begun to look unsurvivable when faced with first-world air defense threats. The USAF has tried over recent years to get out of the RQ-4 business, which might indicate that a more capable system is nearing readiness. The Lockheed Martin RQ-170 was probably a stopgap measure, built in limited numbers to penetrate the airspace of countries such as Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea, where advanced but perhaps not state of the art high altitude air defenses could be expected.
If its does exist, the RQ-180 may be optionally manned in some variants, and will probably have the capability to conduct offensive electronic warfare missions, as well as a “hard kill” ability using precision ordnance.
If the RQ-180 is a Northrop Grumman product, it stands to reason that the company would have used its experience with the X-47 series, and thus, such a vehicle might have a similar “Cranked Kite” planform, something that the Kansas aircraft did notappear to have. But again, clearer photos are needed.
LRS-B/B-3: For around a decade now, the USAF has had a seemingly on-again/off-again preliminary effort to develop a new penetrating bomber, variously known as the Next Generation Bomber, “The 2018 Bomber”, “B-3”, “2038 Bomber”, and currently, “Long Range Strike-B”. Such a capability is forecast to be needed by the 2020s-2030s, when the limited number of B-2s while be nearing their 40th birthdays and possibly becoming vulnerable to Chinese defenses; by that time the B-52H and B-1B fleets will be even older and more vulnerable.
If a LRS-B demonstrator aircraft or prototype would exist [note: it has been stated that in fact no LRS-B demonstrators were built. Take that for what it’s worth], it would probably resemble at least conceptually a B-2 follow-on – a stealthy flying wing, using existing engines and systems to cut down on development costs – another B-2 program where the resulting aircraft were too expensive for anything but a token force would definitely be out.
The LRS-B program, following a 2014 RFP, was awarded to the team led by Northrop Grumman in the fall of 2015. From the artist’s depiction released in February 2016, the aircraft strongly resembles the B-2, as predicted. The B-21 is from the start intended to be a more “networked” aircraft, able to interface more seamlessly with other platforms. Dimensions, although unreleased, are likely to be smaller than those of the Spirit, but even an aircraft with half the B-2’s payload would be a formidable strike asset.
Provisional overhead drawing of the winning Northrop Grumman LRS-B contender, confirmed by the USAF to be designated as the B-21.
Whatever the mystery aircraft were, assuming they were not mis-identified B-2s, it can be asked: “Why now? Why fly such secret aircraft in unsecured airspace, where anyone with a reasonably good camera might be able to get a good look at them?”
Well, “black” aircraft do tend to go off-range at a certain point in their development, even before they’re disclosed. Base commanders back in the U-2 days were briefed about what to do if a “Dragon Lady” with trouble showed up unexpectedly, and F-117 pilots reportedly carried letters from the TAC commander to facilitate hiding their “Black Jets” if they had to land somewhere else than TTR or Groom Lake. Whatever’s flying around out west, it may be far enough along that it has to “go on the road”. And it may well be politically advantageous to disclose such an aircraft’s existence, or at least hint at it.
But basically all we know right now is that there might well be something out there. There’s a big new hangar at Groom Lake that was built for something. So keep looking up!
P.S. The announcement by the U.S. Air Force released on February 26, 2016:
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