There has been discussion about its first test flight being imminent, and service weapons developers consistently express that this system has been progressing very successfully for quite a while now. Naturally, details regarding its specific developmental nuances are likely unavailable, as it is really a black program. However, prototyping, software development and the general success of the program has been well-documented. Given many of these factors, it might by no means be surprising if the B-21’s readiness for operations was merely a couple of years away. Senior weapons developers have long said the aircraft is expected to arrive in the 2020s, so indeed it could very well be on the sooner end of the.

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In recent months, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Air Force Chief Scientist Dr. Richard Joseph and Air Force Acquisition Executive Dr. William Roper, all visited Palmdale, California for an on-site discussion with B-21 boffins and weapons developers with the aircraft’s maker Northrop Grumman.

The B-21 Raider – artist’s impression.
(U.S. Air Force)

During the visit, Roper commented on the extent to that the B-21 brings new dimensions to stealth attack, saying it will “push the boundaries in hardware technologies, like stealth,” and “blaze new trails in agile software development,” according to an Air Force report on the visit.

Roper has long-been an advocate for software modernization as a technical foundation for rapid, agile modernization; he recently published some significant comments about the B-21’s progress regarding software and key elements of mission command, saying that developers recently completed an important software-empowered process intended to bring greater quantities of information processing, data management and computerized autonomy.

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While few details are available concerning the B-21s technical composition for obvious reasons, there are some interesting comments created by Air Force developers along with observations which can be made by simply looking at available images.

Through virtualization and software-hardware synergy, B-21 sensors, computers and electronics can better scale, deploy and streamline procedural functions such as for example checking avionics specifics, measuring altitude and speed and integrating otherwise disparate pools of sensor information. In effect, this means war-sensitive sensor, targeting and navigational data will be managed and organized through increased computer automation. This allows pilots to create faster and much more informed combat decisions.

In previous statements, Roper has described the B-21’s inclusion of “Containerized Software,” which refers to an ability to program computer systems to streamline and compartmentalize different functions simultaneously, yet without launching an entire machine for each app, according to the “Kubernetes” internet site. Roper cited Kubernetes, which is really a computer system for “automating application deployment, scaling and management.” Much of the, as cited by Roper, is made possible through what’s called application containerization; it’s defined as an operating system-level “virtualization method used to deploy and run distributed applications,” based on Techtarget.com. Containerization enables multiple “isolated applications or services to run on a single host and access the same operating system.”

By drawing upon software-enabled virtualization, systems can upgrade faster, reduce their hardware footprint and better employ automation, AI and machine-learning applications. In all-out warfare terms, this means B-21 pilots can share information and find and destroy targets such as enemy air defenses much faster than in the past. This is something that can expedite precision weapons attack and identify approaching air and ground threats and, perhaps of greatest importance, keep pilot crews alive.

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While lots of the details concerning the B-21’s stealth technologies remain mysterious, an instant look at its configuration seems to indicate a few interesting new developments. The engine “inlets” tend to be more curved and embedded in the fuselage, compared to its predecessor the B-2. The body surrounding the inlet appears more rounded and slightly less angular aswell, suggesting newer methods of implementing “low radar signature” stealth engineering. Naturally, fewer edges, angular shapes or protruding structures will probably generate significantly less of a return signal to enemy radar. Also, the back of the aircraft seems to show little or no heat dispensing, like to claim that an internally-buried engine is emitting a straight smaller heat signature compared to the current state-of-the-art stealth engines. Or, there simply might be new means of managing how heat is dissipated or released from the aircraft to lessen or remove any detectable heat signature. In addition, to be less “findable” by enemy sensors, a stealth fuselage was created to effectively mirror the surrounding atmosphere in order to eliminate any detectable temperature difference. Finally, the structural shape of the crew’s command center cockpit on the B-21 appears to have a slightly lower incline than the B-2, making the design slightly more rounded or “blended” right into a seamless, less detectable configuration.

Kris Osborn could be the managing editor of Warrior Maven and the defense editor of The National Interest.

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