Air Force’s B-21 Bomber Nears Key Design Review

The U.S. Air Force, which has been developing the B-21 Raider for almost three years, is on track to conduct a critical design review (CDR) by year’s end, a service official said June 25.

“We are on our way to critical design review,” said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, which oversees the bomber program. “I suspect it will be done before the end of the year. That’s our plan today.” 

Randy Walden, head of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, speaks at the Air Force Association. (Photo by Marc Selinger/Defense Daily)

Randy Walden, head of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, speaks at the Air Force Association. (Photo by Marc Selinger/Defense Daily)

A successful CDR would clear the way for fabrication of the aircraft to begin.

Walden, who spoke to the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute, said the secretive program has been tackling development issues typical for a complex weapon system, such as working on components and figuring out how the engines will fit into the aircraft. A model of the bomber has undergone wind-tunnel testing.

“We’re in that phase today of getting a good feel for each of the components, how they’re going to be integrated in and the engineering associated with that integration,” he said.

The program, whose prime contractor is Northrop Grumman [NOC], completed its preliminary design review in early 2017.

The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 B-21s and begin fielding them in the mid-2020s to replace the B-1 and B-2. The Air Force’s fiscal year 2019 budget includes $2.3 billion for the new stealth bomber, up from $2 billion in FY 2018.

Walden acknowledged that potential adversaries are "probably going to great lengths" to try to steal the program's sensitive information. He said "we're doing everything we can" to guard against such cyber thefts.

Walden, whose office also oversees the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, said the Air Force has no plans to make major design changes to the Boeing [BA]-built unmanned reusable spaceplane. The X-37B is on its fifth mission, carrying an Air Force Research Laboratory experimental payload.

“The X-37 is doing quite well,” he said. “The experimentation we’re doing has been very helpful to others out there in the space community.”

The current mission, which began in September, is slated to last about two years (Defense Daily, Sept. 7, 2017). The X-37B has spent a total of more than 2,000 days in space.

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