On Friday, December 2nd, U.S. military contractor Northrop Grumman unveiled the first new American bomber aircraft in 30 years. According to Yahoo Finance, the B-21 Raider is “the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft.” As such, it is slated to be
the world’s most advanced long-range attack aircraft, capable of reaching any place on Earth on short notice, and of penetrating even the most advanced integrated air defenses.
The U.S. Air Force’s current fleet of bombers is, on average, more than 60 years old, with the still-used B-52 Stratofortress, having been introduced in 1955. The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber made its first flight in 1989.
A sixth-generation military aircraft stands out from fifth-generation predecessors by its modular design, allowing significant battlefield upgrades to incorporate new technology, network capabilities including drone swarms, and the option of pilotless operations.
Northrop Grumman defines the B-21 Raider as a “digital bomber” that integrates “cloud technology:”
Northrop Grumman and the Air Force successfully demonstrated the migration of B-21 ground systems data to a cloud environment. This demonstration included the development, deployment and test of B-21 data, including the B-21 digital twin that will support B-21 operations and sustainment.
The manufacturer also explains how the integration of multiple military systems is further emphasized by the “global reach” capability:
In addition to its long-range precision strike capabilities … it has also been designed as the lead component of a larger family of systems that will deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic attack and multi-domain networking capabilities.
The B-21 Raider will make its maiden flight in mid-2023. It is expected to be followed by a sixth-generation fighter jet designed for the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers.