Stealth Time: Air Force has big plans for its B-21 Raiders
Like the new air force B-21 Raider bursts on the scene as a new generation of stealth bombers to drive the force decades into the future, a lesser-known but equally impactful part of its development is that it will also be able to fly and operate as a drone. Indeed, the unmanned mission capability has been integrated into the engineering plan for the bomber for many years now, as it is something that can give Air Force commanders a new sphere of operational possibilities.
The future bomber force will consist primarily of new B-21 Raiders and improved B-52 Stratofortress aircraft.
“The B-21 Raider will be part of a larger family of systems for conventional long-range strikes, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic attack, communications and other capabilities,” according to an Air Force fact sheet on the B-21. Stealth Bomber Raider. “It will be nuclear capable and designed to accommodate manned and unmanned operations. In addition, it will be able to use a wide range of ranged and direct attack ammunition. ”
What does it mean for the B-21 to be completely unmanned and operate autonomously to a large extent? Certainly, the algorithms and advanced autonomy exist at sufficient degrees of sophistication and complexity for a flight path to be maintained, for maneuvers to be implemented, for targeting data to be upgraded, that the navigational details could be incorporated and, with human supervision, the bombs could even be dropped.
“The B-21 is designed with an open systems architecture to reduce the risk of integration and allow competition for future modernization efforts to allow the aircraft to evolve as the threat environment changes.” , states the Air Force fact sheet.
The B-21 Raider is expected to function with the ability to hold any target in danger, anywhere in the world, at any time, a possibility which, if true, would not necessarily require unmanned missions, according to the main developers of the Air Force. However, drone or unmanned type operations can certainly reduce risk if there is a need for alternate attacks in heavily defended areas.
New types of sensing technologies, enhanced by computer processing capable of artificial intelligence, can quickly integrate new target information, organize it according to established mission objectives, and make critical adjustments without the need for human intervention. Of course, humans could still make decisions about the potential use of lethal force, but advanced autonomy can allow the aircraft to accomplish a whole new dimension of the mission objective independently of one. a way that can improve efficiency, speed up a decision cycle, and respond to new intelligence information in real time.
Would a robotic stealth bomber drop nuclear weapons? Most likely not, it seems, as some things would likely require these essential attributes and characteristics unique to human cognition. Obviously, the release of a nuclear weapon would likely require very clear practical control of a human pilot and not coordinated command and control from a distance. However, the ability to operate a nuclear stealth bomber without the need for a pilot introduces significant tactical possibilities of potential operational importance in an environment of extremely high threat. This could introduce another element of deterrence against potential hostile actors as it would ensure, or at least make more likely, the possibility of close-range attacks in an environment of ongoing, highly contested high-end nuclear or conventional warfare.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National interest. Osborn previously served in the Pentagon as a highly trained expert in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air presenter and military specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.