(WASHINGTON) -- The time for the big reveal of the new B-21 Raider stealth bomber has finally come, but what will we see when the Air Force's newest long-range bomber is unveiled Friday after being shrouded in secrecy?
All that is known for sure is that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be there in person as the B-21 Raider rolls out of Northrop Grumman’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.
There will be a live video broadcast of the unveiling presented by the U.S. Air Force and the plane’s manufacturer, Northrup Grumman, but it's unclear how much of the aircraft will actually be shown as it's made public for the first time.
The mystery surrounding the Air Force’s sixth-generation stealth fighter is in keeping with the scant details provided over the last decade during the development of the bomber -- intended to replace the B-2 Spirit and the B-1 Lancet bombers.
Throughout that time, the goal has been to reveal as little as possible of what it might look like in order to avoided providing any hints of how it can remain undetectable to advanced radars.
And it has literally been cloaked in secrecy.
The first glimpse of what the new aircraft might look like came in the final seconds of a Northrup Grumman Super Bowl ad in 2015 that showed only the plane’s general wing-shaped contours because it was covered by a shroud.
Since then, Northrup Grumman has released only artist renderings of a wing-shaped aircraft in flight that looks a lot like the B-2 bomber.
Like the B-2, the new long-range aircraft is designed to deliver both conventional and nuclear weapons while flying undetectable to advanced radars and air defense systems anywhere in the world.
The B-2 does that through its unique flying-wing shape and the materials and coatings on the plane's fuselage that reduce its radar footprint. It's assumed the new B-21 will improve on a 30-year-old technology.
The aircraft unveiled on Friday will begin initial flight testing at Edwards AFB in California with its first flight forecast to take place in mid-2023. For now, the are six B-21 aircraft in various stages of production and the Air Force plans to to acquire at least 100 of the new bombers, with the first one entering service in the mid-2020s.
As they enter into service, they will eventually replace the B-1 and B-2 bomber fleets, joining the venerable B-52 as the U.S. Air Force's long-range strategic bomber.
Overall, it is estimated that the fleet of a hundred B-21s will cost $203 billion to develop and operate over the next 30 years, according to Bloomberg.
Unless they are temporarily deployed overseas, the B-2 fleet is housed at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The Air Force plans for the new B-21 to operate from Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota, although Dyess AFB in Texas could be an alternate location.
In 2016, the Air Force announced that the new bomber would be known as the Raider to honor the famous Doolittle Raiders who flew the surprise bombing run on Tokyo on April 18, 1942.
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