America’s next long-range strike bomber is now officially called the B-21.
Not to be confused with the B-2, the B-52, or the BM-21 Russian-made multiple rocket launch system.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James made the announcement Friday at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. According to a report in Reuters, the name of the aircraft will be chosen by service members, as “B-21” is just the official designation. The aircraft was long rumored to be called the B-3.
James also released the first rendering of the aircraft that shows a sleek flying wing design that was teased during a Super Bowl ad last year. The B-21 will be a stealth aircraft, much like the B-2 spirit, and capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Northrop Grumman won a contract for the aircraft in October that could mean as much as $80 billion for the aerospace company, but work on the first 100 planes was delayed after the contract’s award was protested by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Both companies had hoped to win the contract, but according to Reuters, Boeing will no longer pursue legal action that could hold up construction of the B-21.
Little is known about the bomber, as its projected capabilities have been kept under wraps to keep the United States’ adversaries from developing countermeasures to defeat it.
When the contract’s award was announced in October, James said that the B-21 would “allow the Air Force to operate in tomorrow’s high-end threat environment.”
Air defenses, like those fielded by countries such as Russia and China, have become increasingly more advanced and are being deployed in ways that are specifically aimed to deter U.S. aircraft and counter their capabilities.
The B-21 is designed to replace the aging fleet of B-1 and B-52 bombers, though it is unclear whether enough B-21s will be built to completely phase out its predecessors. The aircraft still has a long way to go before it can become a reality, and the project has already received flak in Congress as lawmakers wrestle with how to fund the project.
“I am pleased that after years of delays, we are back on track to acquiring this critical capability. Our nation needs a large fleet of next-generation bombers, so this critical program deserves Congress’ close scrutiny as well as its strong support,” said Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of the House Armed Services’ Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee in a statement after the release of the B-21’s official designation.