Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider (LRS-B)

icyplanetnhc (Steve)

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More detail in this article.


NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The U.S. Air Force has five B-21 Raider bombers currently in various states of production at manufacturer Northrop Grumman’s plant in California, the service’s top civilian said on Monday.
“We have been living off of bomber fleet investments made many decades ago, but that is rapidly changing,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told the audience at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference here.

“As I speak there are now five test aircraft being manufactured on the B-21 production line at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California,” he said. “You will never hear me make optimistic predictions about programs. All programs have risk and the same is true of the B-21, but at this point at least, the program is making good progress to real fielded capability.”
Previously, the Air Force had only acknowledged two B-21 test aircraft in production — a sign that the program may be accelerating as it heads toward a planned first flight in 2022.
The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 B-21s, which will begin fielding in the mid-2020s.

It’s unclear how close Northrop Grumman is to finishing construction on the first B-21.
In January, Randall Walden, who directs the Air Force’s Rapid Capability Office that manages the B-21 program, stated that the first aircraft had not yet begun final assembly but was “really starting to look like a bomber.”
Production of the second Raider — which will be used to validate the air vehicle — showed signs of becoming more efficient, Walden said at the time, and Northrop was working on creating more space at its plant to begin work on additional test aircraft.
“The second one is really more about structures, and the overall structural capability,” he said. “We’ll go in and bend it, we’ll test it to its limits, make sure that the design and the manufacturing and the production line make sense.”
 

NeilChapman

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Probably building the B-21s in a similar manner as the B-2s back in the day.


I get your meaning.
But...
It's an opportunity to mention that B-21 is being built much differently than B-2.

B-2 was basically built by hand. Compare that to descriptions of NG's F-35 production line.

 

NeilChapman

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I like the way FK stresses USAF and USSF as key to winning the fight.

Below is an excercise I went through almost exactly two years ago guesstimating at production. I was figuring five completed by 12/21. Five may not be completed but perhaps I'm less than a year out? Certainly closer than it looked six months ago.

---

Here's a hypothetical exercise to see what B-21 procurement might look like based on the info available today.

Since we're talking integration and production of existing tech we'll assume there are mostly F-35 systems
and sensors on the new bomber. My point being that flight testing will be just that - flight and integration
testing. Not so much testing of new systems. The decade of F-35 testing will transfer to B-21.

Here are some examples of possible B-21 systems that might be reused from F-35


Dry version of F135 engineP&W listed as Sub for B-21
CNI Avionics on F-35NG - This includes MADL and sensor fusion. B-21 talks cleanly w/F-35.
AESA Radar on F-35NG
DAS on F-35Originally NG but dropped for Raytheon starting in 2023. Let's hope they fixed the lens problem or perhaps the USAF will specify the change to Raytheon?
EOTS from F-35LM - not listed as a supplier but doesn't the USAF own the technology?


Could they use large portions of F-35 code for B-21 since they are working on Block 4 already? Perhaps someone here knows?

If the stars align, maybe flight testing will go "head-spinning-ly" quickly and they move to building operational
air vehicles within two years. With the recent news concerning production funding in '22 it leads me to believe
the USAF wants to accelerate the completion of the EMD program.

With all those caveats, maybe the next few years looks something like this.



Procurement $ in BudgetDev $ in BudgetBy DecemberAir Vehicles CompletedBlock No.Production Lot
~6.13B spent
through 2018
$2.3B2019AV-1Test
$3.0B2020AV-2 and AV-3Test


In Q1 2021, by historical reference, we expect roll-out and ground testing to begin since 1st flight is Dec '21.
This would mean that NG keeps all AV's under wraps throughout 2020.



Procurement $ in BudgetDev $ in BudgetBy DecemberAir Vehicles CompletedBlock No.Production Lot
$3.1B FYDP2021AV-4 and AV-5Pre-First Flight - Upgrade later


AV-1 or AV-2 first flight in December 2021. AV-2 through AV-5 leave for Edwards throughout 2022 as they are finished.
Block 10 build is locked down in 2021. I believe I recall seeing that the first lot is development and consists of 5 air
vehicles so the math works. USAF projecting procurement funding to begin in '22.

Production increase from 2 to 3 air vehicles for 2022



Procurement $ in BudgetDev $ in BudgetBy DecemberAir Vehicles CompletedBlock No.Production Lot
$0.2B FYDP$3.1B FYDP2022AV-6 through AV-810LRIP-1


During 2022, B-21 begins operational training as Block 10 air vehicles become available and are
flown to Edwards throughout the year.

It's a very interesting that procurement spending is projected for '22 - '24. These are most likely
long lead time purchases but the big $$ makes me think they are planning for early completion
of the EMD contract. This $$ allows them to finish the EMD contract in FY2024 w/all 20 bombers
completed and begin production of 8 bombers per year starting in 2025.

Production increase from 3 to 5 for 2023



Procurement $ in BudgetDev $ in BudgetBy DecemberAir Vehicles CompletedBlock No.Production Lot
$2.4B FYDP$2.7B FYDP2023AV-9 through AV-1310LRIP-2/3


It's been mentioned that FRP target is 8 bombers per year. At ~$700M each that's $5.6B per year. If you
add the '22-'24 procurement $$ you get $5.9B. That provides the budget for qty 8 bombers to be
purchased in 2025 w/a budget of ~$5.9 each year after. A squadron per year.

Production increases from 5 to 7 for 2024.



Procurement $ in BudgetDev $ in BudgetBy DecemberAir Vehicles CompletedBlock No.Production Lot
$3.3B FYDP$2.3B FYDP2024AV-14 through AV-2010LRIP-3/4/5


IOC sometime in 2025 with at least 8 bombers and one trainer. With this accelerated EMD contract
completion there could be almost twice that number. This ends the EMD contract.

Production increases from 7 to 8 for 2025.



Procurement $ in BudgetDev $ in BudgetBy DecemberAir Vehicles CompletedBlock No.Production Lot
$5.9B2025AV-21 through AV-2810FRP-1
$5.9B2026AV-29 through AV-3610FRP-2
$5.9BNUC in 20272027AV-37 through AV-4420FRP-3
$5.9B2028AV-45 through AV-5220FRP-4
$5.9B2029AV-53 through AV-6020FRP-5


In my exercise, best case scenario is 57 bombers by 2030. Six operational squadrons and a training
squadron. These are huge procurement numbers. No wonder the USAF wants to stop funding the
B-1 asap. Maybe they're speculating that the external threats will grow significantly between 2030
and 2040. In the mean time, they can save the B-1 upgrade $$ for B-21.
 

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These numbers being procured basically stops the bleeding from the bomber force readiness given the bones dismal readiness rates and frequent standdowns. 12 to 14 would be huge... Especially if this plane doesn't match the payload of the spirit which I know has been debated because of the smallish size. Now we need to get ngad rolling.
 
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Josh_TN

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There will be a capability gap with the withdrawl of seventeen B-1s, and the fleet will continue to be difficult to maintain even at that level. At least the B-21 seems to be relatively on time and budget such there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I'd be surprised if the final buy doesn't exceed the original requirement given what seems to be the relative progress of the program. I'm sure there will be a need.
 

bring_it_on

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Haven't delivered a bomber for more than two decades (and have burned B-1's down supporting COIN operations), so there will be pain as the force transitions but at least there is a platform in production that could possibly hit a steady state production rate of 8 bombers per year.
 

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Probably building the B-21s in a similar manner as the B-2s back in the day.


I get your meaning.
But...
It's an opportunity to mention that B-21 is being built much differently than B-2.

B-2 was basically built by hand. Compare that to descriptions of NG's F-35 production line.

All B-2s were built on production tooling, AV-1 and AV-2 were more built by hand being the first two aircraft but we did receive fully stuffed center sections and wings from Boeing and intermediate wing sections from LTV for all 21 aircraft. AV-3 and on were built in a "production-type" line. I agree, the B-21 will be built differently probably with a good amount of input and techniques from Scaled Composites. Also, it is easier having a single prime building the aircraft with no teammates, Boeing was difficult to work with but not LTV, we worked well with LTV.
 
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rooster

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Probably building the B-21s in a similar manner as the B-2s back in the day.


I get your meaning.
But...
It's an opportunity to mention that B-21 is being built much differently than B-2.

B-2 was basically built by hand. Compare that to descriptions of NG's F-35 production line.

All B-2s were built on production tooling, AV-1 and AV-2 were more built by hand being the first two aircraft but we did receive fully stuffed center sections and wings from Boeing and intermediate wing sections from LTV for all 21 aircraft. AV-3 and on were built in a "production-type" line. I agree, the B-21 will be built differently probably with a good amount of input and techniques from Scaled Composites. Also, it is easier having a single prime building the aircraft with no teammates, Boeing was difficult to work with but not LTV, we worked well with LTV.
Having worked on cooperatively engineered cars I can say the up front engineering work is a pain in the ass beyond belief but the manufacturing capability of 2 manufacturers can't be beat for volume production.
 

Hydroman

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Probably building the B-21s in a similar manner as the B-2s back in the day.


I get your meaning.
But...
It's an opportunity to mention that B-21 is being built much differently than B-2.

B-2 was basically built by hand. Compare that to descriptions of NG's F-35 production line.

All B-2s were built on production tooling, AV-1 and AV-2 were more built by hand being the first two aircraft but we did receive fully stuffed center sections and wings from Boeing and intermediate wing sections from LTV for all 21 aircraft. AV-3 and on were built in a "production-type" line. I agree, the B-21 will be built differently probably with a good amount of input and techniques from Scaled Composites. Also, it is easier having a single prime building the aircraft with no teammates, Boeing was difficult to work with but not LTV, we worked well with LTV.
Having worked on cooperatively engineered cars I can say the up front engineering work is a pain in the ass beyond belief but the manufacturing capability of 2 manufacturers can't be beat for volume production.
I agree with your statement regarding manufacturing, providing the prime's guidelines and responsibilities to the subcontractor are clearly defined, agreed upon and adhered to. Boeing was and is a pain to deal with in general (example: KC-46). For B-2, Boeing always thought they should be the prime over NGC (building big airplanes) when I worked B-2 in the early days. NGC may or may not use a subcontractor for B-21 production and with a combination of current NGC and Scaled Composite manufacturing methodologies/capabilities may work out fine, I'm not involved with B-21 so this is just my hopeful speculation.
 

Inst

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In my exercise, best case scenario is 57 bombers by 2030. Six operational squadrons and a training
squadron. These are huge procurement numbers. No wonder the USAF wants to stop funding the
B-1 asap. Maybe they're speculating that the external threats will grow significantly between 2030
and 2040. In the mean time, they can save the B-1 upgrade $$ for B-21.
B-1s aren't survivable in a war with a near-peer / peer power. B-21s are, at least against current counterstealth technology.

Also, here's something most people don't get. The PLAAF, between its JH-7 fighter-bombers and H-6 light strategic bombers, has about 67% of the USAF's bomber-based bomb-load. This stuff is generally antiquated and has to rely on coastal anti-air defenses for air-to-air protection, as well as stand-off weapons against surface / naval threats. If the H-20 program turns out to produce a high-payload bomber, like I expect, and the PLAAF ends up producing at least 50 by 2030 as rumored, the PLAAF meets the USAF's bomber force in total bomb load, or, if you neglect the short-ranged JH-7s, they have 67% of the US's bomb load.

If the Chinese are going to have bombers pointed at American assets in East Asia, the USAF should be able to do so as well. With the B-21 claiming an unrefueled range of 18,000 km, it'd likely have the range to strike key Chinese targets (albeit at a low sortie rate) from Anchorage or American bases in the Eastern Pacific (i.e, Hawaii) which are unlikely to get bombed out by the cruise-ballistic-bomber triad in the event of a war.
 

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All B-2s were built on production tooling, AV-1 and AV-2 were more built by hand being the first two aircraft but we did receive fully stuffed center sections and wings from Boeing and intermediate wing sections from LTV for all 21 aircraft. AV-3 and on were built in a "production-type" line. I agree, the B-21 will be built differently probably with a good amount of input and techniques from Scaled Composites. Also, it is easier having a single prime building the aircraft with no teammates, Boeing was difficult to work with but not LTV, we worked well with LTV.

Thanks for that. I didn't know that. I recall reading about a guy crawling in the serpentine duct to drill holes by hand. It was lamenting the fact that 9-axis robots weren't available at the time. I was thinking of that as by hand.

I wasn't aware that SC did production at scale. I would have thought at this point production expertise would come from NG and the quick prototype experience from SC. It looked to me like NG put a lot of time and thought into preparing for F-35 center fuselage production. I assumed that experience would translate to B-21.
 

kaiserd

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In my exercise, best case scenario is 57 bombers by 2030. Six operational squadrons and a training
squadron. These are huge procurement numbers. No wonder the USAF wants to stop funding the
B-1 asap. Maybe they're speculating that the external threats will grow significantly between 2030
and 2040. In the mean time, they can save the B-1 upgrade $$ for B-21.
B-1s aren't survivable in a war with a near-peer / peer power. B-21s are, at least against current counterstealth technology.

Also, here's something most people don't get. The PLAAF, between its JH-7 fighter-bombers and H-6 light strategic bombers, has about 67% of the USAF's bomber-based bomb-load. This stuff is generally antiquated and has to rely on coastal anti-air defenses for air-to-air protection, as well as stand-off weapons against surface / naval threats. If the H-20 program turns out to produce a high-payload bomber, like I expect, and the PLAAF ends up producing at least 50 by 2030 as rumored, the PLAAF meets the USAF's bomber force in total bomb load, or, if you neglect the short-ranged JH-7s, they have 67% of the US's bomb load.

If the Chinese are going to have bombers pointed at American assets in East Asia, the USAF should be able to do so as well. With the B-21 claiming an unrefueled range of 18,000 km, it'd likely have the range to strike key Chinese targets (albeit at a low sortie rate) from Anchorage or American bases in the Eastern Pacific (i.e, Hawaii) which are unlikely to get bombed out by the cruise-ballistic-bomber triad in the event of a war.
With respect;
1) total “bomber based bombload” as you appear to have defined it is essentially all but meaningless (how much precision weapons, how much stand-off weapons etc etc.)
2) The maths appears highly selective and probably just wrong. Re: the H-6 aren’t the vast majority of those still in service dedicated stand-off missile carriers or dedicated air-to-air refuellers? And what would be the relevance of latent capacity for more traditional bombing that is likely never be used, particularly as would be unsurvivable against US level defences. If we are talking the relative “throw weights” of CALCMs equally unclear where you are getting the 67 percent figure (can’t be any where that given the difference in aircraft numbers and the much larger capacity of each US bomber aircraft in this regard).
And the inclusion of the JH-7 is a bit of a farce; on that basis US F-15Es, F-35s, F-16s, carrier strike aircraft etc should be included. As should Chinese J-16s and other aircraft with credible medium-long range strike capacity.

There may be a valid point in there somewhere about an increasing threat from Chinese CALCMs following the introduction of the next generation Chinese bomber.
 

Inst

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With respect;
1) total “bomber based bombload” as you appear to have defined it is essentially all but meaningless (how much precision weapons, how much stand-off weapons etc etc.)
2) The maths appears highly selective and probably just wrong. Re: the H-6 aren’t the vast majority of those still in service dedicated stand-off missile carriers or dedicated air-to-air refuellers? And what would be the relevance of latent capacity for more traditional bombing that is likely never be used, particularly as would be unsurvivable against US level defences. If we are talking the relative “throw weights” of CALCMs equally unclear where you are getting the 67 percent figure (can’t be any where that given the difference in aircraft numbers and the much larger capacity of each US bomber aircraft in this regard).
And the inclusion of the JH-7 is a bit of a farce; on that basis US F-15Es, F-35s, F-16s, carrier strike aircraft etc should be included. As should Chinese J-16s and other aircraft with credible medium-long range strike capacity.

There may be a valid point in there somewhere about an increasing threat from Chinese CALCMs following the introduction of the next generation Chinese bomber.

I'll admit where you're correct, especially since I haven't run the numbers recently:

-The H-6 force on the lower bound has about 1,560,000 kg worth of payload.
-The JH-7s have around 2,000,000 kg of payload, and combining them you get about 3,560,000 kg worth of payload, or 59% of the USAF's bomber force if we go with the JH-7s (this is more complicated, I agree with you that it's unfair not to include the F-15E or EX, since, like the JH-7, it's not a valid air-to-air platform in a fifth generation environment).
-The pure USAF bomber fleet (B-52s, B-1s, B-2s) is currently 6,328,000 kg worth of payload.
-The H-20s are rumored to be capable of 30,000 kg bomb loads, so 50 of them come out to 1,500,000 kg worth of payload, or 5,060,000 kg including the JH-7s, but removing the JH-7s you come out to only 3,060,000 kg worth of payload, which is less than half the USAF's strategic bomber force.
-If the B-1s are fully phased out by B-21s, that's a loss of 3,534,000 kg worth of payload, but only an increment of 700,000 kg worth of payload, putting the fight to 3,494,000 kg vs 3,060,000 kg.

===

However, the Chinese do have SDB-equivalents and their own GPS-equivalent (which, by virtue of being newer, is more capable where it has coverage, at least on the civilian level).

The concern with bombing, and this gets us to a point where we're talking about the PLAAF isn't the VVS (i.e, the PLAAF cannot content itself with air defense or air denial for a variety of reasons), is over scenarios where the Chinese both get air superiority and can conduct SEAD missions. Gravity bombs, guided or otherwise, are actually substantially more cost-effective than cruise missiles in terms of being able to deliver ordinance to a target, since the propulsion unit is reusable, while with cruise missiles the engine is destroyed with the cruise missile.

===

A key issue I think is that the Chinese are likely interested in saturation bombing of US as well as opposing assets in the East Asia region. This is not merely for military utility, but also to encourage potential elements in the American containment chain to consider going neutral instead. Cruise missiles, subsonic, supersonic, and hypersonic are one way of achieving this, ballistic missiles are another, but bombers present yet another way to do so. A sufficiently stealthy bomber aircraft, especially considering the relatively low level of counterstealth investment the US has put in, could provide low-cost sustained bombing.

@Josh_TN


Then again, that could be refuelled ferry range. The 19,000 figure seems high to me as well, so I have to assume it's ferry range, not combat radius. Practical combat radius is more likely to be 19,000 * .3 or *.4.
 
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stealthflanker

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I'll admit where you're correct, especially since I haven't run the numbers recently:

-The H-6 force on the lower bound has about 1,560,000 kg worth of payload.
-The JH-7s have around 2,000,000 kg of payload, and combining them you get about 3,560,000 kg worth of payload, or 59% of the USAF's bomber force if we go with the JH-7s (this is more complicated, I agree with you that it's unfair not to include the F-15E or EX, since, like the JH-7, it's not a valid air-to-air platform in a fifth generation environment).
-The pure USAF bomber fleet (B-52s, B-1s, B-2s) is currently 6,328,000 kg worth of payload.
-The H-20s are rumored to be capable of 30,000 kg bomb loads, so 50 of them come out to 1,500,000 kg worth of payload, or 5,060,000 kg including the JH-7s, but removing the JH-7s you come out to only 3,060,000 kg worth of payload, which is less than half the USAF's strategic bomber force.
-If the B-1s are fully phased out by B-21s, that's a loss of 3,534,000 kg worth of payload, but only an increment of 700,000 kg worth of payload, putting the fight to 3,494,000 kg vs 3,060,000 kg.

Why you are not using Sortie generation method instead ? That will give you a better merit in terms of gauging strike performance of a bomber fleet and the respective countries operates them.
 

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We’d also have to talk about practical targets and weapons to really characterize capabilities, as well as discussing how many systems could actually be based in theater (or in the US case potentially outside it, with the sortie penalty that entails). Neither side is committing long range assets with free fall ordnance, guided or not, unescorted to hostile territory. IE, b-52s and H-6s are effectively only missile carriers. Both sides would have physical and political limitations as to how much of their force was focused in any one area.

I don’t think it’s a thing that really could be calculated without at least some AI, and even then the results would be limited by human assumptions.

Clearly there is an advantage to having long range penetrating assets, especially for the US which would be working at a distance. That would reintroduce the possibility of short range guided weapons on heavy bombers, greatly reducing inventory cost and perhaps more importantly increasing payload. The B-2 can deliver 80 JDAMs at around 5000km unrefueled. If the B-21 could deliver a similar number of SDBs at a similar range, that would be very problematic for the PRC. And obviously vice versa.
 

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Could they use large portions of F-35 code for B-21 since they are working on Block 4 already? Perhaps someone here knows?
Lockheed writes and owns the F-35's core mission systems software; ie the sensor fusion engine, etc. Also I doubt the US government owns any IP of the F-35's EOTS; integrating a TFLIR shouldn't be difficult though.

Let's hope they fixed the lens problem or perhaps the USAF will specify the change to Raytheon?
I'm not aware of any lens issue with DAS; for the F-35 they went from Northrop to Raytheon for Block 4 because the latter was offering a newer and better (in AFAIK every way) system; Northrop chose not to contest it, possibly for internal politics reasons or possibly because they just didn't have a decent offering ready for those SWaP + capability requirements.

While I obviously can't be 100% certain, my bet would be that it's unrelated to the B-21.
 

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Lockheed writes and owns the F-35's core mission systems software; ie the sensor fusion engine, etc. Also I doubt the US government owns any IP of the F-35's EOTS;

Wow, that blows me away that the customer wouldn't own the code after paying for custom integration - ridiculous actually. It's not like LM had a product sitting on the proverbial shelf. The US taxpayer underwrote all the development work did they not?

Surely this is not the case. Is there somewhere I can read up on this?
 

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Lockheed writes and owns the F-35's core mission systems software; ie the sensor fusion engine, etc. Also I doubt the US government owns any IP of the F-35's EOTS;

Wow, that blows me away that the customer wouldn't own the code after paying for custom integration - ridiculous actually. It's not like LM had a product sitting on the proverbial shelf. The US taxpayer underwrote all the development work did they not?

Surely this is not the case. Is there somewhere I can read up on this?
If LM funded it on their own dime it's theirs.
 

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Why would you want to reuse the code, an EOTS or even the radar from the F-35? Would the B-21 even have an X band radar?
 

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If LM funded it on their own dime it's theirs.

I guess that's my question. Is there a program report that states LM owns the code. If that's the deal the Program office made with them then God love 'em. I've seen a media report stating LM owned the logistics system ALIS but that was being transitioned to a jointly owned product called ODIN. All I see re software block development is $B's paid to LM. Nothing re LM developing code on their own dime.
 

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Surely this is not the case. Is there somewhere I can read up on this?
It's been reported on at various points over the years; the logic back in the 90s / early 2000s was that private industry would handle everything more efficiently, so if we allow Lockheed (and NG, BAE Systems, etc) to own the intellectual property and handle things like deep level maintenance, etc, we'll save money. So while the US government did pay tens of billions for the F-35 to be developed, they essentially paid for a service (designing and testing), not a product (instead the physical aircraft is the product).
In some respects they were, but it also meant that if a contractor isn't delivering as promised (as has happened plenty of times during the F-35 program), you have limited ability to re-compete contracts or aspects of the program; you can't bring in (eg) Raytheon to write sensor fusion software for the F-35 because Lockheed has the legal right to refuse to cooperate / give them access to the rest of the software. There are 'nuclear' options that could be used to obtain the IP, but you risk having the program implode or temporarily grind to a halt.
 

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A windshield rendering is not often a window into the design philosophy behind a new aircraft, but that is not the case in the ultrasecretive world of the Northrop Grumman B-21 program. In fact, the oddly upward-sloping side cockpit window revealed in the latest of three official B-21 renderings is...
 

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It hasn't been flying, can we just stop with the mindless nonsense? You can't fly what isn't built and if it was built they would be bragging about it already. The surprise is going to be how close to being operationally ready the systems are at roll out. You'll basically be looking at a production ready aircraft before it has even flown, as opposed to an airplane prototype waiting for systems.
 

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