The US Air Force confirms progress in testing its new B-21 bomber and the AGM-181 LRSO nuclear missile.

On May 8, Air Force Acquisition Chief Andrew P. Hunter told a group of lawmakers that the USAF’s nuclear modernization process in its air branch (compared to delays in the ground component) is making significant progress. This means that two of its most critical components, the new B-21 bombers and the AGM-181 LRSO nuclear missiles, have been successfully evaluated to ensure their integration.

B-21 Raider

As Hunter put it, in response to questions from Arkansas state legislator Tom Cotton: ““It does (referring to the B-21) what flight test programs are designed to do, which helps us learn the unique characteristics of this platform, but in a very efficient way (…) I am encouraged by the way it is progressing.”

As expected, details of the tests are being kept in a very tight environment, with only a few basic questions known about the new B-21, nicknamed the Raider. Its first flight took place in November 2023, although no prior announcement was made to the public, and it is the first sixth-generation aircraft to fly. Its initial production began at a low rate in January of this year, with the US Air Force awarding a contract to Northrop Grumman, but the stipulated quantities and units required in the contract are still unknown, assuming a quantity approaching 100 aircraft according to the spokesman’s statements. From the US Air Force.

Right side view of an AGM-86 air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) in flight.

In short, it is known that the B-21 Raider will be a replacement for two classes of aging US Air Force bombers, the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit. Along these lines, it can be inferred that its main mission will be to maintain the strategic nuclear deterrent of the United States, to be able to carry out deep incursions into enemy territory due to its stealth characteristics. Regarding the deadlines for achieving operational capability, information indicates that this goal is expected to be achieved by 2025.

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Regarding the modern AGM-181 LRSO missile and future alternatives to the AGM-86 ALCM missile, Hunter said: “He does good monitoring. The program is certainly on track to meet its schedules and deliver on schedule. We also do well with the costs of this program“It is specifically a system developed by RTX subsidiary Raytheon Technologies, which, after comfortably defeating Lockheed Martin in 2020 in the Technology Maturity and Risk Reduction (TMRR) phase of the program, has already been tested on B-52J -21 bombers. .

*Images are used for illustrative purposes

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Lovell Loxley

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