Wingman Bomber: The US Air Force’s B-21 Raider will fly with an extremely advanced drone stealth bomber
During a keynote speech delivered at the Air Force Association’s 2022 Warfare Symposium earlier this year, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall revealed that the United States is exploring the idea of an uncrewed stealth bomber platform that could fly missions ahead of the optionally-crewed B-21 Raider to expand upon America’s deep penetration strike capabilities in hotly contested airspace. This new bomber platform would be expected to have a “comparable range” to that of the new globe-spanning bomber, with payload capabilities to be determined in large part by price point… which is currently estimated to land somewhere near the incredible figure of $300 million or more per drone.weapon
A rendering of a B-21 Raider Drone Wingman
An unclassified Request for Information the Air Force has released to industry partners calls for this new drone stealth bomber to have at least a 4,000-pound payload capacity and a comb at radius of 1,500 miles. Yet, as Aviation Week’s Steve Trimble has pointed out, it seems likely this aircraft will need to be able to match the B-21’s range in order to serve its purpose as a means of support on long-duration missions.
A B-21 Raider Drone Wingman rendering.
A substantially cheaper drone stealth bomber that can fly ahead of the B-21 Raider could offer a huge strategic value. Raider crews could use these uncrewed bombers to target anti-ship weᴀponѕ that are too well defended to risk engaging crewed aircraft, or they could engage air defense systems to allow for a safer route to the objective. Of course, at half the cost of a B-21, we’re still talking about a drone stealth bomber that costs as much as three or more F-35s. Nevertheless, the F-35 very likely couldn’t reach these targets, to begin with, whereas these new drone stealth bombers will be able to.
With the B-21 expected to replace both the B-2 Spirit and the B-1B Lancer, it makes sense for the U.S. to consider fielding less-expensive drone stealth bombers as a supplement to its next-generation bomber fleets. This program is still in the early stages of development, with Air Force officials currently assessing which of the B-21’s systems should be migrated to the stealth drone and which can’t be due to cost limitations.