Northrop Grumman and the US Air Force (USAF) celebrated a milestone on December 2, 2022, when the first B-21A Raider bomber was unveiled at the contractor’s Palmdale, California, facility adjacent to the USAF’s Production Flight Test Installation (PFTI) – known as Air Force Plant 42. In fact, the Air Force last unveiled a new bomber in November 1988, when the first of 21 B-2As was shown publicly in Palmdale. It delivered the last of 21 B-2As in 1997. The new B-21A is the first of 100 or more that the USAF plans to acquire as replacements for its current fleet of B-1B Lancers, B-2A Spirits and B-52H Stratofortresses.
The Raider’s roots can be traced to the Air Force’s Next-Generation Bomber (NGB) program, which began in 2004 as an initiative to explore new technologies. Initially projected to enter service around 2018, the NGB was envisioned as a stealthy, subsonic, medium-range, medium payload bomber. Although Northrop Grumman and a team composed of Boeing and Lockheed Martin were developing designs, a change in direction caused by budgetary restrictions and nuclear arms treaty considerations resulted in the cancellation of the program in 2010.