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Northrop Grumman B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber

Sundog

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If all you need is a missile truck to lob missiles, why keep the B-52s around? Why not replace them with a KC-46 derivative? Its just as stealthy as a B-52 (probably more so) and will be much cheaper to maintain in the long run, while lowering the price on the KC-46s.
Because the B-52 can carry quite a bit of ordnance at much higher altitudes than a commercial airliner and for longer range.
 

marauder2048

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And the B-52 is going to have a large AESA that's extremely useful for communicating with missiles in flight.
 

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bobbymike

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Sorry to quibble on the word “Arsenal” but shouldn’t an arsenal plane carry A2A weapons to get that designation?

I mean the B-52 can already or soon be ready to carry all A2G ordnance and that plane is already called a bomber.
 

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Sure a KC-46 derivative would lose some payload-range capability (6,000 nm vs 8,000nm with same 70,000 lb payload) but everything else can be replaced, you can add pylons thought the KC-46 should have more internal volume, and you can add an AESA (just like the P-8). But in the process you gain much cheaper maintenance costs, easier basing options, greater sortie rates, and probably more bombers overall as well as more tankers (as the KC-46 price drops), and you can now forward deploy them were you are deploying your tankers, saving time to station and increasing sortie rates. I'll take the cost savings and the increased flexibility over the minor increased payload-range capability.
 

sferrin

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Sure a KC-46 derivative would lose some payload-range capability (6,000 nm vs 8,000nm with same 70,000 lb payload) but everything else can be replaced, you can add pylons thought the KC-46 should have more internal volume, and you can add an AESA (just like the P-8). But in the process you gain much cheaper maintenance costs, easier basing options, greater sortie rates, and probably more bombers overall as well as more tankers (as the KC-46 price drops), and you can now forward deploy them were you are deploying your tankers, saving time to station and increasing sortie rates. I'll take the cost savings and the increased flexibility over the minor increased payload-range capability.
But what is your purchase price? How does it compare to B-52 sustainment? How many do you need to duplicate the capability of the B-52 fleet? How many additional tankers do you need to support that larger, lower ranged fleet?
 

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Sure a KC-46 derivative would lose some payload-range capability (6,000 nm vs 8,000nm with same 70,000 lb payload) but everything else can be replaced, you can add pylons thought the KC-46 should have more internal volume, and you can add an AESA (just like the P-8). But in the process you gain much cheaper maintenance costs, easier basing options, greater sortie rates, and probably more bombers overall as well as more tankers (as the KC-46 price drops), and you can now forward deploy them were you are deploying your tankers, saving time to station and increasing sortie rates. I'll take the cost savings and the increased flexibility over the minor increased payload-range capability.
But what is your purchase price? How does it compare to B-52 sustainment? How many do you need to duplicate the capability of the B-52 fleet? How many additional tankers do you need to support that larger, lower ranged fleet?
All are good questions that the Air Force should be asking right now. Those B-52s are not going to last forever, they will require expensive upgrades, and their maintenance cost will keep going up.

I will argue that you could end up requiring less tanker support since you could more easily forward deploy them. A lot more bases can support a KC-46 that can support a B-52.
 

kaiserd

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In the absence of a directly equivalent role or need (with similar assumptions of lack of opposing fighters) not seeing a driver for any of the existing US bombers to pick up such a role;
Cruise missile defense. A pretty strong driver and an abundantly urgent need.
Re: the pacific the missile carrier/ air land launched long range cruise missile threat is not insignificant in capabilities but is not necessarily yet that great in number (there still aren’t that many Chinese Badgers, their B-21 equivalent is years away). While Chinese long range fighters (J-20, Su-35s) are a factor likely spelling rapid death for any air-to-air B-52s or B-1Bs
Similarly the Russian air launched cruise missile threat has and continues to build back up from a low ebb in capability but not yet a major increase on in numbers. Maybe less likely to see Russians fighters being a factor here.
I’m not focusing on sub launched cruise missiles due to their more unpredictable nature and most limited susceptibility to such defenses.

From my perspective the point about a large aircraft like a strategic bomber in such a role is its endurance and its magazine; you must need to shoot a lot of missiles and not have better alternatives, and their must be an almost complete absence of opposing fighters because you’ll be their must tempting prey.
Otherwise it’s a waste of a bomber and/ or a waste of the resources better diverted to something more attuned to the threat.

And rather like the topic of missile defense if you move in areas of strategic nuclear weapons then cost/ benefit analysis of what’s really what’s worth spending for certain levels of necessarily limited defensive effectiveness comes into play.
 

marauder2048

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Sure a KC-46 derivative would lose some payload-range capability (6,000 nm vs 8,000nm with same 70,000 lb payload) but everything else can be replaced, you can add pylons thought the KC-46 should have more internal volume, and you can add an AESA (just like the P-8). But in the process you gain much cheaper maintenance costs, easier basing options, greater sortie rates, and probably more bombers overall as well as more tankers (as the KC-46 price drops), and you can now forward deploy them were you are deploying your tankers, saving time to station and increasing sortie rates. I'll take the cost savings and the increased flexibility over the minor increased payload-range capability.
But what is your purchase price? How does it compare to B-52 sustainment? How many do you need to duplicate the capability of the B-52 fleet? How many additional tankers do you need to support that larger, lower ranged fleet?
All are good questions that the Air Force should be asking right now. Those B-52s are not going to last forever, they will require expensive upgrades, and their maintenance cost will keep going up.

I will argue that you could end up requiring less tanker support since you could more easily forward deploy them. A lot more bases can support a KC-46 that can support a B-52.

Not sure how cutting holes in an expensive commercial widebody derivative, recertificating the entire operating envelope
and adding draggy external elements offsets notional gains from commonality particularly as sustaining any crew
currency in weapons delivery will be completely disjoint from actual tanker training and manning.
 

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It was done (in a smaller scale) quite successfully in the P-8. Boeing even did studies on how to drop ICBMs out off a 747. Pylons might not even be required based on the size of the hypothetical bomb bays. Its not hard to do, its just a question of cost.

Maintenance encompasses a lot more than just crew training.
 

marauder2048

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Re: the pacific the missile carrier/ air land launched long range cruise missile threat is not insignificant in capabilities but is not necessarily yet that great in number (there still aren’t that many Chinese Badgers, their B-21 equivalent is years away). While Chinese long range fighters (J-20, Su-35s) are a factor likely spelling rapid death for any air-to-air B-52s or B-1Bs
Similarly the Russian air launched cruise missile threat has and continues to build back up from a low ebb in capability but not yet a major increase on in numbers. Maybe less likely to see Russians fighters being a factor here.
I’m not focusing on sub launched cruise missiles due to their more unpredictable nature and most limited susceptibility to such defenses.

From my perspective the point about a large aircraft like a strategic bomber in such a role is its endurance and its magazine; you must need to shoot a lot of missiles and not have better alternatives, and their must be an almost complete absence of opposing fighters because you’ll be their must tempting prey.
Otherwise it’s a waste of a bomber and/ or a waste of the resources better diverted to something more attuned to the threat.

And rather like the topic of missile defense if you move in areas of strategic nuclear weapons then cost/ benefit analysis of what’s really what’s worth spending for certain levels of necessarily limited defensive effectiveness comes into play.
Leaving aside the fact that in the arsenal plane concept you have your fighters flung forward..

US air bases in the actual campaign models that RAND has published are contending against a combined GLCM/ALCM
salvos (along with IRBMs and MRBMs) but there is no fighter opposition.

You need to shoot a lot of missiles and there don't appear to be better alternatives.

I'm not sure what resources you are wasting since you will have bombers with the appropriate
radars, they can carry the AAMs and their employment in standoff attacks (their only other role) is going to be constrained
by the BDA/ISR cycle and their MC rate for heavy weapons.
 

marauder2048

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It was done (in a smaller scale) quite successfully in the P-8.
Which is adapting an existing aft cargo compartment for a small number of comparatively small weapons.
IIUC, that's not what you are suggesting for the KC-46.

Boeing even did studies on how to drop ICBMs out off a 747
And it went nowhere for good reasons.

Maintenance encompasses a lot more than just crew training.
Manning is already the single largest projected O&S cost of the KC-46 and
you are now talking about a custom variant of a custom variant.
 

NeilChapman

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Looks like B-52's will last as long as is needed.

Cruise missile defense. A pretty strong driver and an abundantly urgent need.
Re: the pacific the missile carrier/ air land launched long range cruise missile threat is not insignificant in capabilities but is not necessarily yet that great in number (there still aren’t that many Chinese Badgers, their B-21 equivalent is years away). While Chinese long range fighters (J-20, Su-35s) are a factor likely spelling rapid death for any air-to-air B-52s or B-1Bs
Similarly the Russian air launched cruise missile threat has and continues to build back up from a low ebb in capability but not yet a major increase on in numbers. Maybe less likely to see Russians fighters being a factor here.
I’m not focusing on sub launched cruise missiles due to their more unpredictable nature and most limited susceptibility to such defenses.

From my perspective the point about a large aircraft like a strategic bomber in such a role is its endurance and its magazine; you must need to shoot a lot of missiles and not have better alternatives, and their must be an almost complete absence of opposing fighters because you’ll be their must tempting prey.
Otherwise it’s a waste of a bomber and/ or a waste of the resources better diverted to something more attuned to the threat.

And rather like the topic of missile defense if you move in areas of strategic nuclear weapons then cost/ benefit analysis of what’s really what’s worth spending for certain levels of necessarily limited defensive effectiveness comes into play.
My experience is that the United States and her allies want to dissuade bad actors with overwhelming power projection. If a country or countries is/are threatening US allies and her Navy with ballistic missiles then there will be focus on negating that threat. Currently, that threat is seen as ballistic missiles

In 2030, B-21's will likely be ready to fulfill their mission. They could even be forward based. The US and her allies will have between 300 and 500 F-35's in the Indo-Pacific region. When you consider the force multiplier the F-35 is expected to be this is an extremely significant air force on its own. The US may have ~1000 F-35's worldwide by 2030.

Were hostilities to start, F-22, F-35(D?) or PCA will be dealing with any 5th gen adversaries. F-15's and F-16's are also likely to still be based in the region. B-2's with an F-35 cap might make a great ballistic missile defense platform helping to defend forward bases, large naval groups and then, perhaps, a long range missile carrier for B-21's. It's much easier to rearm B-2's than frigates.

One might expect B-52's and B-1B's to be somewhat further back. Perhaps providing long range fires for targets of opportunity. I couldn't imagine non-stealth bombers will get nowhere near an area where an adversaries 5th gen fighters may slip in to shoot them down.

But who knows. Maybe by then a large reusable rocket could be a delivery platform. Launch it 60 miles up, release 25-30 hypersonic boost-glide missiles, land, and reload. Hmmm.
 

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Plus the fact that a re-usable rocket can be forward deployed in time of crisis drastically reducing intercept times, forcing your enemy to redeploy zone defense assets declustering their overall defense.
Add the psy effect of a nuclear carrying rocket landing next to your country border in the evening news and you'd see that this might be the next akin to B-52 in strategic deterrence.
 

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If you're going to fly an arsenal plane, you're going to have room in the airframe to carry some heavy jamming/EW gear, and if you're doing it up smart (and presuming that we're looking forward a decade or so), you're also going to have the opportunity and power generation for some DEWs to defend against inbound threats. Imagine the B-52's LLTV and FLIR chin pods replaced with lasers, for example. Add to that some loyal wingman UCAVs or Gremlins to fly alongside and complicate the enemy targeting process, and it may not even matter that much if the arsenal plane is LO, just because it's harder to hit in general.
 

Tuna

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The role of the B-2 likely changes as B-21's come online.
It's going to change to "museum piece". B-2 are ridiculously expensive to fly. Even above their immediate flight hour costs, their maintenance requires expensive infrastructure that nothing else in the USAF arsenal needs. There is absolutely no way to justify maintaining the B-2 fleet for any other reason than for the unique capabilities only they have. The second cheaper to maintain airframes can provide those same capabilities, the Spirits are all going to make a one-way trips to either museums or to the boneyard.

Maintaining it as a missile truck would be absurd -- it would be cheaper to provide the same capability by flying a bunch of new stealth fighters in close formation.
 

sferrin

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But who knows. Maybe by then a large reusable rocket could be a delivery platform. Launch it 60 miles up, release 25-30 hypersonic boost-glide missiles, land, and reload. Hmmm.
I wonder how much Elon would sell Starships for.
 

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The role of the B-2 likely changes as B-21's come online.
...
The second cheaper to maintain airframes can provide those same capabilities, the Spirits are all going to make a one-way trips to either museums or to the boneyard.

Maintaining it as a missile truck would be absurd -- it would be cheaper to provide the same capability by flying a bunch of new stealth fighters in close formation.
The USAF may agree with you but I don't agree "absurd" is the right sentiment, just expensive. The question is when is that "second". Originally it was 2058. Now, due to manpower requirements, it's the 2030's.

The first B-21 squadrons will likely be existing B-2 squadrons. But the US Air Force has determined that the National Defense Strategy requires 74 additional squadrons by 2030, including 5 additional bomber squadrons. The problem is they are already short of maintainers. They've got to fix this structural manpower retention problem. I think forward deployed bombers would add continuity and security for maintainers and their families. I'd be looking to invite/lure/steal level 5 and above maintainers from industry as well. Perhaps even bring the "Warrant Officer" classification to the Air Force. Technical specialists need advancement opportunities and an ability to compete $$$-wise with industry.

In addition to forward deployed bombers, there needs to be a plan for B-21's and B-2's to fight together for 5 years or so. B-2's are force multipliers. When you're short bombers, I don't think you want to get rid of force multipliers. I hope they keep B-2 and B-1 squadrons until the additional 5 bomber squadrons are functional. I wouldn't want to see them go as soon as B-21's come online. The additional numbers count.
 

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As it stands now the first B-21 squadron will be located at Ellsworth AFB which now flys the B-1B in the 34th and 37th bomb squadrons. I don't know if they will make one of those a training squadron and assign the first B-21's to it much like one of the Dyess B-1B's squadrons functions as a training unit or activate a third squadron as such a unit. The B-2 squadrons are assigned to Whiteman AFB. The latest public release was for them to receive the B-21 in 2032-33 long after the initial squadrons achieve IOC and probably FOC. Think the last B-1B's are scheduled to go away in 2036. As for maintainers the easiest and something that is used by the 509th at Whiteman as well as the 9th at Dyess is the establishment of a guard or reserve associate units. Plenty of journeymen maintainers in those units.
 

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This from the general commanding the 8th Air Force at a recent 30th Anniversary celebration of the B-2 as reported by Defense News:

"The program has made fast progress through its design phase, completing a preliminary design review in 2017 and the critical design review in 2018. The B-21 Raider could reach initial operational capability in the mid 2020s, the Air Force has said, and the service plans on buying at least 100 aircraft.

“From everything I hear, the cost, schedule, performance is right on expectations,” said Maj. Gen. Jim Dawkins, the commander of the Eighth Air Force who is responsible for overseeing strategic bomber operations. Dawkins was on the ground in Palmdale for the event and for B-2 related activities, but told reporters that his trip would not include any B-21 related activities.

Big questions still loom about the future of the B-2. In 2018, the Air Force announced that it would retire both the B-2 and the B-1 in the early 2030s as the B-21 came online.

But after an internal study by the Air Force posited that it would need to increase from nine to 14 bomber squadrons by 2030, service leaders have said that they continue to assess its bomber force structure plans. On Tuesday, Dawkins said the timeline for the B-2’s retirement was “still evolving,” with “no set date” for divestment."
 

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As it stands now the first B-21 squadron will be located at Ellsworth AFB which now flys the B-1B in the 34th and 37th bomb squadrons.

...
Ok. I wonder why that is. Perhaps there is net new infrastructure requirement that is easier to accommodate at Ellsworth?

It would be nice if the plan is to not cannibalize existing squadrons to stand up B-21 units.
 

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If they are adding 5 more squadrons, it would be nice to see a base like KI Sawyer in northern michigan reopened. Read that they still use the 12,000 ft runway for civilian aircraft.
 

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If the B-21 is going to be a smaller, more dynamic younger brother of the B-2 and use the same off-the-shelf tech as the F-35, it's very much possible we may see a modern technological platform exceed the initial planned order quantity (especially given the rapid modernization of China). Once they show off their new stealth bomber in the next few months, it'll be a major wake up call to the world.
 

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Ellsworth may have been chosen because initially the B-21 was to replace the B-1B and B-2. Its selection does not impact B-1B training allowing both Ellsworth and Dyess to fly the two bombers in parallel until the B-21 reaches FOC. Now with the AF asking for 5 more bomber squadrons additional bases may need to be found. This brings up a few good questions like: Will they base the additional B-21's at Ellsworth, Dyess and Whiteman? SAC in it's day liked dispersal basing. What other bases than these three can accommodate bomber squadrons? Are there agreements with communities to re-take bases like K.I. Sawyer, Wurtsmith, Forbes and Griffiss? There are also Malmstrom and Grand Forks AFB's with little or no flying activity that might be future locations for these aircraft.
 

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From the article...

"...Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, will receive B-21s as they become available. "

The existing bomber bases not listed are Barksdale LA and Minot ND. With BRAC already an issue it would be surprising to see additional bomber bases identified in CONUS. I would speculate that the listed facilities are the "easiest" to add infrastructure.

With a 28,000 square mile bomber test range across four states, Ellsworth is a no-brainer. There is a B-1 wing there already. I don't know if they'll stand up a different wing in support of B-21 or incorporate B-21 schoolhouse into the existing wing. Either way there will need to be significant construction at any of these bases if five bomber squadrons will be added AF wide. The good thing is that Ellsworth has significant open space. There may even be enough space to add an entire wing with a couple of squadrons of B-21's should they keep the B-1's.

Whiteman is the only B-2 base; with two active duty and one ANG squadron. There would definitely need to be additional construction if B-21's were to be based alongside existing B-2's. I don't believe they have the space for additional support infrastructure, squadron facilities, shops and housing. It seems like they were planning to just replace the B-2's with B-21's.

As B-2 is THE penetrating bomber at the moment how would you, logistically, keep your global strike capability AND switch out three squadrons? Perhaps you bring a squadron or two up to full operational capability at the schoolhouse and then inactivate one of the three squadrons of B-2's at a time? Maybe the ANG squadron first? It will be interesting to see what they do.

Dyess also has none of the protective structures used for B-2's. Assuming that B-21's are not going to sit on the flight line like B-1's, and that B-21 squadrons will be net new, then these structures, maintenance shops and housing would need to added. The base also has the advantage of significant amounts of open space inside the existing base perimeter.

IMO, if the net number of squadrons "may" increase, it would make sense to increase all the required support infrastructure at as few facilities as possible.

 

rooster

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If the B-21 is going to be a smaller, more dynamic younger brother of the B-2 and use the same off-the-shelf tech as the F-35, it's very much possible we may see a modern technological platform exceed the initial planned order quantity (especially given the rapid modernization of China). Once they show off their new stealth bomber in the next few months, it'll be a major wake up call to the world.
The artwork certainly doesn't show a significant size reduction. I don't see how 100 long ranged lo aardvark sized aircraft can replace all of the buffs,bones,and spirits.
 

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In an op-ed for the Air Force Magazine, Pacific Air Forces Director of Air and Cyber Operations Maj. Gen Scott L. Pleus confirmed that next-generation bomber will have new capabilities for self-defense during flight.

Maj. Gen Scott L. Pleus exposed details of new equipment and new concepts in order to sustain Air Force’s air superiority in the decades to come, adding that “a B-21 that also has air-to-air capabilities”.

 

TomS

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The source article is here. It doesn't say that the B-21 will have air-to-air capability, and in fact implies that the current B-21 does NOT have such capability. The quote from Pleus is not directly related to B-21, rather it's about not pre-judging NGAD.

In fact, Air Force leaders have consistently said NGAD need not produce a new fighter, but could yield something else entirely.

“If we were to characterize it as a fighter, we would be …thinking too narrowly about what kind of airplane we need in a highly contested environment,” Pleus said. “A B-21 that also has air-to-air capabilities” and the ability “to work with the family of systems to defend itself, utilizing stealth—maybe that’s where the sixth-generation airplane comes from.”
 

AN/AWW-14(V)

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The source article is here. It doesn't say that the B-21 will have air-to-air capability, and in fact implies that the current B-21 does NOT have such capability. The quote from Pleus is not directly related to B-21, rather it's about not pre-judging NGAD.
but this is such an obvious way to improve survivability
 

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The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber’s first flight will be a short hop, about 22mi (35km) north across the Mojave Desert, from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California where it is being built to its testing site at Edwards Air Force Base.
 

FighterJock

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The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber’s first flight will be a short hop, about 22mi (35km) north across the Mojave Desert, from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California where it is being built to its testing site at Edwards Air Force Base.
That is excellent news Flyaway, the fact that they are releasing this news now must mean that the first prototype is nearing completion.
 

Flyaway

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The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber’s first flight will be a short hop, about 22mi (35km) north across the Mojave Desert, from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California where it is being built to its testing site at Edwards Air Force Base.
That is excellent news Flyaway, the fact that they are releasing this news now must mean that the first prototype is nearing completion.
But does that tally with first flight date being comparatively far in the future?
 

FighterJock

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The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber’s first flight will be a short hop, about 22mi (35km) north across the Mojave Desert, from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California where it is being built to its testing site at Edwards Air Force Base.
That is excellent news Flyaway, the fact that they are releasing this news now must mean that the first prototype is nearing completion.
But does that tally with first flight date being comparatively far in the future?
Hmm, never thought of that.:oops: I wish that I could be a fly on the wall at Northrop Grumman at Plant 42 right now.
 

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Even with an extensive ground test program ahead of the first flight, I wouldn't expect the first complete aircraft more than a year before the date given. At most maybe something like the 787 "rollout" airframe where they have something that "looks" complete and has most of the major systems, but is held together with temporary fittings and is still a ways away from being a functional aircraft.
 

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Even with an extensive ground test program ahead of the first flight, I wouldn't expect the first complete aircraft more than a year before the date given. At most maybe something like the 787 "rollout" airframe where they have something that "looks" complete and has most of the major systems, but is held together with temporary fittings and is still a ways away from being a functional aircraft.
I think that was the case with the B-2. I recall ground tests took another 9 months after the rollout ceremony. 9 months after rolling out the B-1, the B-52, the B-58, they had racked up some hours. Hopefully it's not that long, again., especially with the comments about OTS tech being used in it.
 
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