United States Air Force (USAF) Secretary Frank Kendall revealed last week during the AFA Warfare symposium, held in Orlando, Florida, that the corporation is studying a new long-range unmanned bomber.
In a speech, Kendall said the project is not necessarily an unmanned version of the B-21 Raider, a stealth bomber designed by Northrop Grumman. The first flight of the B-21 should take place later this year, while its entry into service is scheduled for mid-2027.
The Secretary stated that the USAF is currently working on the concept definition of the aircraft, which should have a range comparable to that of the Raider, estimated at about 11,000 km, and be operationally valuable and economical.
Kendall also said that the project can start from the 2024 fiscal year and invited companies in the sector to present their ideas, as long as they are proposed with values lower than the B-21.
The unit cost of the new USAF bomber is around $550 million. The USAF plans to purchase about 120 of the new aircraft, which will replace the costly B-2 Spirit.
“I would love for it to be less than half (the price of the B-21). I would love for it to be a quarter or an eighth,” said the secretary. But half is “the minimum we should shoot for at this point.”
Kendall’s confirmation that the USAF is exploring this new unmanned aircraft concept is a significant development in its own right and could have major impacts on the future of the USAF’s bomber fleet, which has the largest inventory in the world.