The B-21 Raider: A Bomber That Is Both Low Observable And Easier to Maintain

B-21 Raider
Supportability issues that affected the availability and performance of early, stealthy aircraft are being addressed by Northrop Grumman on this new program.
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Stealth aircraft have always had challenges related to maintainability due to the need for specialized personnel, equipment, materials, and facilities. That’s not the case with the B-21 Raider, and in this Q&A with Steve Sullivan, vice president, Strike Division, we discuss how Northrop Grumman has applied new innovations in supportability to the program.

Breaking Defense: Northrop Grumman has extensive experience in designing and maintaining low observable aircraft. What lessons learned is Northrop Grumman bringing to the B-21 to support sustainment?

Sullivan: The B-2 Spirit, which we designed and built in the 1980s, was revolutionary not only for the shape of the airframe but also the low observable (LO) treatments and coatings that were applied for survivability. These have set the standard for the last three decades.

Our advancements in LO were not without their challenges, however. At the time, the overwhelming focus of the build was the LO design; maintenance consequences of the design had not yet been fully realized. Early stealth aircraft have required extensive resources, including specialized personnel with unique training, and aircraft hangars and other facilities with narrow temperature and humidity requirements for both aircraft maintenance and storage of materials.