America's B-21 Stealth Bomber vs. China's H-20 Stealth Bomber (Who Flies First?)

David Axe

The first B-21 stealth bomber is in production for the U.S. Air Force. But the high-tech new bomber isn’t alone. Photos have emerged depicting a scale model of China’s own, in-development stealth bomber.

Northrop Grumman is building the first B-21 at its facility in Palmdale, California. The company in 2015 won the contract to develop and build potentially more than 100 B-21s. The Air Force intends to field the flying-wing bombers as replacements for existing B-1 and B-2 bombers.

“Today we do have an airplane in there that would be our test jet number one,” Randall Walden, director and program executive officer for the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, told National Defense magazine. “I won't go into a lot of detail [on] how far along we are, but suffice it to say, ... we're working the production line literally today.”

The B-21 could make its first flight in late 2021 or early 2022. “Things like large components coming together, integration, ground tests — all the things that lead up to a first flight — have to be accomplished,” Walden said. “There's a lot of things that have to happen between now and a couple of years, … but in general terms, that's what we're shooting for.”

The Air Force still hasn’t decided how many B-21s to buy. The service hopes for each bomber to cost around $600 million. “We’re exploring the force structure between the B-1, the B-2 and the B-52,” Air Force vice chief of staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said in July 2019.

Wilson stressed that the service needs “at least 100” B-21s.

The Air Force repeatedly has said that, in the 2030s, it will retire its 62 1980s-vintage B-1 bombers and, a few years later, also will retire all 20 '90s-vintage B-2 stealth bombers.

Meanwhile, the service would upgrade 76 B-52s that first flew in the early 1960s and buy at least 100 new B-21 stealth bombers. The result in the 2040s would be a force of around 175 bombers composed of factory-fresh B-21s and 80-year-old B-52s.

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