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Pentagon unveils B-21 Raider, 1st new strategic bomber since Cold War

The B-21 Raider was unveiled to the public at a ceremony Friday at the Northrop Grumman manufacturing facility in Palmdale, Calif. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.
The B-21 Raider was unveiled to the public at a ceremony Friday at the Northrop Grumman manufacturing facility in Palmdale, Calif. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has publicly unveiled the new B-21 Raider, the Pentagon's first new long-range strike bomber since the Cold War and touted as the "backbone" of a modernized bomber fleet.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Air Force officials and executives of aircraft manufacturer Northrop Grumman Corp., hosted the unveiling event at company's production facilities in Palmdale, Calif., on Friday, hailing the new stealth bomber as "a significant milestone" in plans to replace the aging B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers now in service.

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"The B-21 Raider is the first strategic bomber in more than three decades," Austin said. "It is a testament to America's enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation. And it's proof of the [Defense Department's] long-term commitment to building advanced capabilities that will fortify America's ability to deter aggression, today and into the future."

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr., predicted the B-21 will become "the backbone of our bomber fleet" thanks in part to its "updated stealth qualities and mission flexibility."

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Its maker touted the B-21 as "capable of networking across the battlespace to multiple systems, and into all domains" through the use of a "digital ecosystem" that can "quickly evolve through rapid technology upgrades that provide new capabilities to outpace future threats."

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"With the B-21, the U.S. Air Force will be able to deter or defeat threats anywhere in the world," said Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems President Tom Jones.

Exactly when the B-21 will enter service remains unknown, but Air Force officials have said they want an ultimate fleet of at least 100 aircraft at an average cost of $692 million per plane, based on current dollars.

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When it does become available, the bombers' main base will be Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, where training will be carried out. Whiteman AFB in Missouri and Dyess AFB in Texas are also in line to host B-21s.

Six of the advanced bombers are currently under production -- each are considered test aircraft.

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