Military procurement success stories are rare, to say the least.
- A key lawmaker overseeing Pentagon spending says the new B-21 Raider bomber is a military procurement success story.
- The B-21 will replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers starting in the late 2020s.
- The first B-21 bomber is scheduled to take flight in 2022.
The U.S. Air Force’s forthcoming B-21 Raider bomber isn’t only on budget—it’s also (mostly) on time. That might as well be a miracle in the messy world of military hardware procurement.
The B-21 Raider is the Air Force’s next strategic bomber. The bomber, which outwardly resembles the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, will replace both the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit. The B-21 will be a dual capable bomber, which means it can carry either nuclear or conventional weapons. The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 of the planes for a maximum of $665 million.
Military procurement programs of all flavors tend to take longer than anticipated and cost more than estimated. The U.S. Army, for example, spent 6 years finding a replacement for the M9 handgun, finally picking the M17/M18 series of handguns in 2017. The Air Force’s KC-46A Pegasus tanker, meanwhile, is 7 years behind budget and costs $4.6 billion more than originally quoted.
But there’s one ray of hope in the Pentagon budget, and it’s seemingly in the most unlikely of places. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, recently said the B-21 is “on time, on budget, and they’re making it work in a very intelligent way,” according to Breaking Defense.
Speaking at a recent think tank event, Smith also said he was “relatively upbeat” about the B-21 program after the delays and overruns of the F-35 Joint Strike FIghter, and cautioned that things could “quickly go sideways” once the airplane started flying.
It’s fair to say most people expected the B-21 to blow its timetable and budget. Armed warplanes are among the most notorious military spending programs, and adding a nuclear capability tends to exacerbate both. The B-2 famously went over budget in the late 1980s and early 1990s, though a major part of that was a late-stage redesign that required the plane to be capable of low-altitude flight. As a result of the redesign (and the end of the Cold War), the B-2 fleet went from a planned 132 aircraft to just 21.
While the B-21 has slipped a tiny bit—the first Raider was supposed to fly in December 2021, and it’s now scheduled for sometime in 2022—the plane has also stayed on budget, and that’s the more important thing.
The Air Force plans to buy 100 B-21s, but would really like 220 of the bombers. If the plane can stick to schedule and not break the bank, that would help the Air Force make the case for a larger fleet.
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