Australia’s latest Defence Strategic Review has rejected the acquisition of the B-21 Raider after a detailed discussion with the US.
In an announcement today, 24 April, Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles presented a strategic review that emphasises the need for a significant shift towards long-range deterrence. The proposed approach involves the use of missiles, submarines, and cyber tools to keep potential adversaries at a safe distance.
On the subject of air domain investment priorities, Australia’s Defence Strategic Review referenced the new defence posture as reasoning for rejecting the B-21: “In light of our strategic circumstances and the approach to defence strategy and capability development outlined in this review, we do not consider the B-21 to be a suitable option for consideration for acquisition.”
Australian planners have focused on strengthening the northern bases and developing the ability to strike capabilities across air, land and sea, to counter fears that a confrontation with China could leave Australia cut off from global supply chains.
The US Air Force has adopted the B-21 Raider as the multi-functional backbone of the American bomber fleet, deployable in crewed and uncrewed autonomous operations, with the potential to provide both conventional and nuclear munitions capabilities.
Unveiled in December 2022, the Northrop Grumman aircraft is a sixth-generation long-range strike bomber designed to replace the ageing B-2 Spirit and B-1 Lancer aircraft fleet.
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Instead, the Australian Defence Strategic Review will make an investment priority of refitting the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and F/A-18F to be capable of launching the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) and upgrading these airframes to Block 4 configuration to enable them to operate the Joint Strike Missile (JSM).
The Australian Air Force also intends to prioritise collaborative development with the US on the MQ-28A Ghost Bat autonomous air vehicle.
The Ghost Bat operates as a loyal wingman in an integrated system of crewed and uncrewed aircraft, providing an attributable platform that can be rapidly replaced for a lower cost than crewed platforms.