US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has disclosed that Northrop Grumman is producing five B-21 Raider stealth bomber test aircraft.

Construction is being carried out at the company’s Palmdale facility in California, US.

The announcement was made during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference.

Kendall said: “As I speak, there are now five test aircraft being manufactured on the B-21 production line at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.

“This investment in meaningful military capabilities that project power and hold targets at risk anywhere in the world addresses my number one priority.”

In January 2021, the service had acknowledged that only two B-21 test aircraft were in production at the company’s facility.

Northrop Grumman Strike Division vice-president and general manager Doug Young has attributed the acceleration of the progress in aircraft production to the early application of digital tools and a skilled workforce.

According to the company, new digital tools and processes application early in the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase and the use of augmented and virtual reality (VR), as well as ground and airborne testbeds played a key role in the progression of the programme.

Young said: “With the capability to hold targets at risk anywhere in the world, this weapon system is critical to our national security.

“Northrop Grumman is committed to delivering the B-21 Raider to the warfighter on time to ensure America can project its power globally for decades to come.”

Northrop Grumman is developing the B-21 Raider as a replacement to the USAF’s ageing B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit aircraft.

In June this year, South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air force Base (AFB) was officially chosen as the home for the first operational B-21 Raider bombers.