The B-21: another Air Force diva that can’t deliver? By Andrew Cockburn

It looks really cool, though. From Andrew Cockburn at responsiblestatecraft.org:

The glitzy debut of the next-gen Northrop Grumman bomber belies a payload of military industrial disappointments.

Consistent with today’s trend to render all defense as performance art, the unveiling of the new Northrop Grumman B-21 “Raider” bomber at the Northrop plant in Palmdale on December 2 was designed with the care and production values of a Superbowl commercial. 

The blue backlighting, the sonorous music (One Day, by Caleb Etheridge) the shiny shroud strip-teased off the partly hidden aircraft by shadowy figures, the flyover by the bombers the B-21 will allegedly replace, were military-industrial showmanship at its best, giving us not a scintilla of worthwhile information about the plane. Fittingly, its primary selling point, according to its promoters, is “stealth” – a supposed ability to remain invisible to radar and other sensors. Given that earlier systems advertised as being cloaked from radar scrutiny, such as the F-22 and F-35 fighters, have turned out to be visible after all especially to decades-old low frequency radar systems, the prospects are not hopeful. We do however know that it has the most important characteristic of stealth: invisibility to the taxpayers.

The Political Engineering Was Never a Secret

For many years the Air Force declined to release a cost figure for the B-21, claiming the figure was classified on grounds that our enemies would learn valuable secrets if they knew just how much of a wallop it was going to be on our pocketbooks. Now, thanks to Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg, we know the official estimate of the projected cost to develop, produce and operate 100 B-21s for thirty years is a cool $203 billion. However, back when the Air Force were telling us we had no right to know exactly what we were paying for, they did release the most important fact of all: the major corporations – Pratt & Whitney, BAE Systems, Orbital ATK, and others – who would be the major subcontractors in the Northrop-led program. By absolutely no coincidence at all, these turned out to be in congressional districts and states represented by senior figures on important defense committees in the congress. This is known as “political engineering” in which defense programs are rendered politically invulnerable to cancellation or funding shortfalls thanks to the salting of key constituencies with rich contracts. Brazenly, the Air Force announced at the time it was naming the prime contractors on the bomber “in a sign of transparency to gain public trust.”  

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