Air Force Secretary Frank Kendell said this week that five B-21 Raider stealth bombers are currently under production, three more than were previously known about. Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman
Sept. 21 (UPI) -- An arms contractor is making "good progress" on the production of five B-21 Raider stealth bombers, U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall disclosed during a speech this week.
Speaking Monday at the Air Force Association's Air, Cyber and Space Conference outside Washington D.C., Kendall said five test examples of the aircraft are being developed by Northrop Grumman Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., report Flight Global and The Drive.
B-21 Raider is the most advanced bomber to date and is being built for complex nuclear long-range missions. All planning, analysis, reports and tests for the B-21 flights will be done at 420th Flight Test Squadron at California's Edwards Air Force Base.
Top military officials, including Kendall, have pushed for building more of the B-21s, which are part of the Pentagon's nuclear modernization plans.
The aircraft will replace the B-1 fleet. So far, the Air Force has only released renderings of the B-21.
Northrop Grumman has increased activity at its facility in Palmdale over the last year, reports FlightGlobal. The Air Force wants the B-21 operational by the middle part of the decade and anticipates the aircraft's first flight in 2022.
Previously, only two were believed to be in production, and Kendall said the B-21 Raider will become "the backbone of the Air Force bomber fleet," reports National Defense.
"This investment in meaningful military capabilities that project power and hold targets at risk anywhere in the world addresses my number one priority," he said, according to National Defense.
In his first public speech as secretary of the branch, Kendall emphasized that replacing older aircraft and outpacing China militarily, which he stressed was his biggest priority.
"While America is still the dominant military power on the planet today, we are being more effectively challenged militarily than at any -- any -- other time in our history," he said.