The B-21 Raider made its first test flight Friday, bringing the futuristic fighter jet one step closer to the nation’s next nuclear-armed stealth bomber.
The Raider flew to Palmdale, California, where it was tested and developed by Northrop Grumman.
The Air Force plans to build 100 fighter jets, which will have a flying wing shape similar to their predecessor, the B-2 Spirit, but will incorporate advanced materials, propulsion and stealth technology to make them more resilient in a future conflict. The aircraft is expected to be produced in both manned and unmanned variants.
“The B-21 Raider is undergoing flight testing,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.
Such tests are a crucial step in the campaign to provide “penetrating, long-range, survivable strike capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks against the United States, its allies and partners,” it said. Stefanek.
The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber in more than 30 years, and almost every aspect of the program is classified. Northrop Grumman and the Air Force attempted to protect details of the program to prevent China from accessing the weapon’s technology and building a similar version, as it has done with other weapon systems advanced American aircraft such as the F-35 joint strike fighter.
The B-21 is part of the Pentagon’s effort to modernize all three prongs of its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched nuclear warheads, as it invests in new weapons to respond to China’s rapid military modernization.
Northrop Grumman Corp. is based in Falls Church, Virginia.
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She previously served as Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.