US-China defense race: World’s first sixth-generation aircraft B-21 nuclear bomber debuts

China's H-20 'stealth bomber,' allegedly a rival to the US's 'Raider,' may also be rolled out soon.
Baba Tamim
World’s first sixth-generation aircraft, B-21 nuclear bomber unveiled.
World’s first sixth-generation aircraft, B-21 nuclear bomber unveiled.

Northrop Grumman 

Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N) and the U.S. Air Force have finally rolled out the world's first sixth-generation aircraft after over three decades, amid a tight arms race with China. 

The B-21 "Raider," a long-range nuclear bomber, was unveiled on Friday, at the company's facility in Palmdale, California, according to a press release by the defense giant. 

"The Northrop Grumman team develops and delivers technology that advances science, looks into the future, and brings it to the here and now," said Kathy Warden, CEO and president of NOC.N.

"The B-21 Raider defines a new era in technology and strengthens America's role of delivering peace through deterrence."

US-China defense race: World’s first sixth-generation aircraft B-21 nuclear bomber debuts
B-21 Raider unveiled.

The bomber, delivered to the U.S. Air Force, now forms a member of the "strategic triad as a visible and flexible deterrent, supporting national security objectives," as per the company. 

"The B-21 Raider is a testament to America's enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation," said Lloyd J. Austin III, U.S. Secretary of Defense.

"And it's proof of the Department's long-term commitment to building advanced capabilities that will fortify America's ability to deter aggression, today and into the future."

The Secretary stated that the U.S.'s deterrence is at the heart of its defense strategy.

"This bomber was built on a foundation of strong, bipartisan support in Congress. And because of that support, we will soon fly this aircraft, test it and then move into production," he said. 

B 21's sixth-generation characteristics

US-China defense race: World’s first sixth-generation aircraft B-21 nuclear bomber debuts
B-21 Raider's path to flight readiness.

As the head of a potent family of systems that usher in a new era of capability and flexibility through cutting-edge data, sensor, and weapon integration, the B-21 Raider serves as the foundation of U.S. air power's future. 

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Information advantage, stealth, and open architecture are some of its sixth-generation characteristics.

The lethal B-21 can network into all domains and to numerous systems throughout the battlespace. It can evolve fast through rapid technological upgrades that give it new capabilities to outstrip potential threats. 

Over three decades of stealth and striking technologies have benefited the B-21 Raider, claims the company, "the B-21 will defeat the anti-access, area-denial systems it will face."

The "Raider" differs significantly from the B-2, according to Kathy Warden, chief executive of Northrop Grumman, the company producing the Raider.

"The way it operates internally is extremely advanced compared to the B-2, because the technology has evolved so much in terms of the computing capability that we can now embed in the software of the B-21," said Warden.

The use of new propulsion technologies, as well as the use of advanced materials in coatings to make the bomber harder to detect, and new techniques for controlling electronic emissions to enable the bomber to fool the enemy, are some of the features we know about so far. 

The classified bomber is a cornerstone of the Pentagon's efforts to improve its defense in response to China's quick military modernization.

US-China defense race 

The bomber attributes to Pentagon's revitalizing efforts to update all three components of its nuclear triad, including silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched bombs.

Its delivery timing sends a strong signal to China, which is also planning to counter the U.S.'s launch of the B-21 Raider. 

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) may be very near to launching the classified H-20 stealth bomber, a warplane that may practically double its attack range and is allegedly considered a competition to the U.S.'s "Raider." 

By 2035, China is projected to possess 1,500 nuclear weapons because of advancements in hypersonic technology, cyber-warfare, space capabilities, and other fields.

A recent meeting between the two superpowers may have eased some nerves but the defense race continues.