New pictures of the US Air Force's newest stealth bomber — the B-21 Raider — just dropped as flight testing continues

  • The US Air Force just released more photos of the B-21 Raider, its newest stealth bomber.

  • The long-range aircraft is working through flight testing in California.

  • Pentagon leadership has said it will form the "backbone" of America's future bomber fleet.

The US Air Force on Wednesday published more photos of its newest stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, as the penetrating strike aircraft continues to work through flight testing.

The photos, captured in January and April, show the sleek new bomber in the middle of its testing — consisting of ground testing, taxiing, and flight operations — at California's Edwards Air Force Base. The new images come as the long-range aircraft inches closer to entering service later this decade.

Andrew Hunter, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said earlier this month that the B-21's flight-test program is "proceeding well" and is on schedule to meet timelines and delivery schedules.

"It is doing what flight-test programs are designed to do, which is helping us learn about the unique characteristics of this platform, but in a very, very effective way," Hunter said during testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 8.

A B-21 Raider conducts flight tests, which includes ground testing, taxiing, and flying operations, at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
A B-21 Raider at Edwards Air Force Base in California.412th Test Wing courtesy photo

The B-21 is the US military's first newly developed strategic stealth bomber in more than 30 years. Development began in 2015, and the Pentagon unveiled the Raider to the public in December 2022. Nearly a year later in November 2023, the aircraft finally embarked on its much-anticipated first flight. Following the success of ground and flight tests, it was cleared to enter low-rate initial production.

The US Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office manages the acquisition program with a strategy of building test bombers "as production-representative as possible," the 412th Test Wing said in a statement Wednesday.

"Rather than a traditional flight prototype approach, B-21 test aircraft are built including mission systems using the same manufacturing processes and tooling for production aircraft," the Wing said, adding that "this approach in development laid the groundwork for production to start more quickly."

The B-21 is expected to enter service in the latter half of this decade. The military's goal is to produce at least 100 of these aircraft. US officials say The Raider is set to incrementally replace the B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers.

The B-21 Raider program at Northrop Grumman's manufacturing facility on Edwards Air Force Base, California.
The B-21 Raider program at Northrop Grumman's manufacturing facility on Edwards Air Force Base.412th Test Wing courtesy photo

Pentagon leadership has stressed that the B-21 will form the "backbone" of America's future bomber fleet. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has praised the aircraft's stealth capabilities, saying that decades of advances in low-observable technology have gone into the bomber's development.

"Even the most sophisticated air-defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky," Austin said at the aircraft's unveiling.

Northrop Grumman, which manufactures the bomber, has touted the plane as the "world's first sixth-generation aircraft." It can be armed with standoff and direct-attack munitions and will be able to conduct both conventional and nuclear strikes.

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