Could Russia's S-400 Shoot down the Air Force's New B-21?

Kris Osborn

Key point: The B-21 is a powerful and modern weapon system, but so is Russia's new S-400 system.

The Air Force is preparing for a substantial technical “critical design review” of its next-generation B-21 Raider bomber, an aircraft said by developers to mark a new “generation” in stealth technology able to elude the most advanced air defenses in the world.

The review, described by Air Force officials as a key step prior to formal construction of the aircraft, will assess design specs, technology plans, computing power and weapons integration for the new bomber – a platform which service developers say will advance stealth technology itself to new, unprecedented dimensions of technological sophistication.

“The B-21 program has completed preliminary design review. The next step is critical design review. The Air Force remains confident in the B-21's progress and in delivering this new capability as planned in the mid-2020s,” senior Air Force public affairs director Anne Stefanek, told Warrior Maven earlier this year.

Critical reviews of the emerging B-21 design are essential to engineering a platform able to accommodate the most advanced current and anticipated future stealth properties – which include stealth coating and configuration, radar cross section reduction and heat signature suppression technologies, among other things.

A new generation of stealth technology is being pursued with a sense of urgency, in light of rapid global modernization of new Russian and Chinese-built air defense technologies; advances in computer processing, digital networking technology and targeting systems now enable air defenses to detect even stealth aircraft with much greater effectiveness.

Russian built S-300 and S-400 air defense weapons, believed by many to be among the best in the world, are able to use digital technology to network “nodes” to one another to pass tracking and targeting data across wide swaths of terrain. New air defenses also use advanced command and control technology to detect aircraft across a much wider spectrum of frequencies than previous systems could.

This technical trend has ignited global debates about whether stealth technology itself could become obsolete. “Not so fast,” says a recent Mitchell Institute essay – “The Imperative for Stealth,” which makes a lengthy case for a continued need for advanced stealth platforms.

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