Air Force Evokes Doolittle Raid in Naming B-21 the 'Raider'

 - September 19, 2016, 12:05 PM
The U.S. Air Force released this artist's rendering of the B-21 long-range strike bomber, which it has christened the Raider.

Updated with information from B-21 panel discussion

The U.S. Air Force evoked the April 1942 Doolittle Raid over Japan to name its new long-range strike bomber the B-21 Raider. Richard Cole, now 101, the last surviving crewman from that raid, announced the name after a suspenseful build-up at the Air Force Association (AFA) Air, Space and Cyber Conference on September 19.

During a later panel discussion, the leader of the Global Strike Command affirmed the B-21 will be a manned platform.

The Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman an engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract to begin building the B-21 last October, following a hard fought competition against the team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The service expects to begin initial operations with the bomber in mid-2020s.

In February, the Air Force for the first time released an artist’s rendering of the B-21 revealing a tailless flying wing with a “W” shaped trailing edge. The service conducted a competition among airmen to name the bomber.

During a panel discussion at the AFA conference, Gen. Robin Rand, who leads the Air Force Global Strike Command, offered more information on the closely guarded program. In response to questions from the audience, he said the B-21 will be a manned platform capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear weapons, including the B61-12 precision guided nuclear bomb and the Long Range Stand-Off air launched nuclear missile. “We’re planning on it being manned. With a family of systems, there will be other systems that will be supporting it that aren’t going to be manned,” Rand said. “I like the man in the loop…particularly as we do the dual capable mission with the nuclear weapons.”

Rand said he favors acquiring at least 100 B-21s to meet current and projected requirements and to approximate the current fleet of 158 B-52, B-1 and B-2 bombers. “I cannot for the life of me imagine that our United States Air Force and our nation could have one less bomber than it currently has today,” he said. “I’m going to stick to my guns—100 is a minimum for the B-21.”

Randall Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said the B-21 program could cost less than previously estimated for the five production lots of 21 bombers that will be built once the EMD phase is completed. “The latest independent cost estimate suggests that we’re going to beat the $550 million APUC (average procurement unit cost) that you’ve seen in the press quite a few times,” he said. An open mission systems architecture, could save “upwards to anywhere from 50-to-80 percent in cost and potentially schedule” of avionics, he added.

Walden was asked if the service was withholding too much information for a program that could potentially cost $80 billion. “It truly is a balance of transparency and what we still need to protect from a national security objective,” he replied. “From the beginning we’ve rolled out quite a bit of information; I’ve said (it’s been) greater than most programs out there that have this level of critical technology. We’ve also shared the full independent cost estimate associated with EMD and what the average procurement unit cost is for each of the platforms…We are looking at opportunities to declassify,” in coordination with the intelligence community, he added.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein selected the name of the bomber from a list that was recommended to them from more than 2,100 unique proposals. Multiple entries proposed naming the B-21 the Raider; the two winning airmen were chosen based on the overall quality of their justifications of the name, which “captured the essence of the bomber force,” James said.

Following what will likely be her last address to the annual AFA conference, James recognized the two winning airmen and then asked Cole, who served as Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s copilot on a B-25B Mitchell bomber, to announce the name.

“The Doolittle Raiders are known for their surprise attack against Japan during World War II on April 18, 1942, which forced the Japanese to recall combat forces for home defense, and boosted morale among Americans and U.S. allies abroad,” the Air Force said.


Turbineguy's picture

Ya think Sikorsky might have an issue with the name they chose?