So... what will the Air Force call this new bomber? The name will be up to the men and women of the Air Force. Leaders of the bomber program will be considering name suggestions from airmen. The bomber's name will be announced at an Air Force conference scheduled in the fall.
Until now the B-21 has been referred to as the Long Range Strike Bomber because it will be designed to launch from the U.S. and strike any target around the globe.
When Northrop Grumman won the contract to build the B-21 last year, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said it will allow the U.S. to "project power across the globe now and into the future," calling it a "strategic investment for the next 50 years."
Long term, the idea is for these planes to replace Air Force B-52 bombers, which have been flying for more than half a century -- and eventually the B-1 bombers, when they retire sometime in the 2040s.
Engineering and development costs are estimated at $21.4 billion (in 2010 dollars) over the entire life of the program.
Officials have been tight-lipped as to the specific capability expectations for the LRS-B, but indications are that it will be stealthy, able to carry conventional and nuclear weapons and could possibly operate with or without a pilot!
The Air Force said it plans to start testing the plane sometime in the mid-2020s.
The B-2 ended up costing American taxpayers more than $2 billion per copy. The plane was so expensive that the Air Force ended up buying just 21 of them. And the B-2 is so complex and unreliable that, on any given day, just nine are actually ready for combat.
The B-21 is supposed to remedy the B-2’s flaws and help the Pentagon deter Russia and China for 50 years or more after the first B-21 deploys some time in the mid-2020s. The Air Force wants 100 of the new bombers at a cost of just $790 million apiece, a bargain by stealth bomber standards. The quantity is key.