Rumors that the Air Force’s B-21 stealth bomber will eventually be optionally manned may have been exaggerated.
On the same day that Air Force Secretary Deborah James announced the future bomber’s name-Raider-the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command said he wants to keep a pilot in the cockpit, indefinitely.
“We’re planning on being manned,” said Gen. Robin Rand, speaking at the Air Force Association’s annual conference near Washington, D.C. Monday.
Rand added that the $550 million long-range strategic bombers would work with other supporting systems that would be unmanned. But even though the possibility of an optionally manned Raider existed in the future, Rand suggested there might be benefit to keeping a human pilot intrinsic to the system.
“If you had to pin me down, I like the man in the loop; the pilot, the woman in the loop, very much,” he said, “particularly as we do the dual-capable mission with the nuclear weapons.”
Randall Walden, director and program executive officer for the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, left the door open for the calculus to change over time.
“From an unmanned point of view, it’s at basic requirement stated,” he said. “The question is, what’s the right timing to bring that level of capability together with this type of platform.”
The aircraft, to be built by Northrop Grumman Corp., is expected to replace aging B-52 and B-1 bombers. Air Force officials have said they expect the first aircraft to reach initial capability in the mid-2020s.
The Raider name is an homage to the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders of World War II, led by Air Force Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who led a famous 1942 air strike on factories and military targets around Tokyo following the Pearl Harbor attacks.
“I think it’s a name that will actually stick,” Rand said. “I think people will call it the Raider.”