A fleet of 12 B-21 Raiders would cost Australia up to $28 billion, according to estimates from a leading think tank.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said while the aircraft would come at a “great cost”, it has the advantage of being able to fire cheaper, short-range weapons.
The B-21 is the ‘sequel’ to the UFO-like B-2 Spirit and is designed to silently strike deep behind enemy lines with its 9,500 km range and advanced stealth capabilities.
There has been recent speculation the RAAF would look to purchase a fleet to give Australia a long-range strike ability that would act as a deterrence against any conflict with China.
On Monday, new analysis from ASPI authors Dr Marcus Hellyer and Andrew Nicholls puts a figure on acquiring the aircraft for the first time.
“The cost of 12 B-21 aircraft is estimated at $15 billion to $17 billion (out-turned). This is essentially a unit flyaway cost (that is, just for the aircraft),” write the pair.
“While the US Defense Department’s history is replete with examples of cost overruns, there are some grounds for optimism that the current costs are reasonably reflective—within about 10 per cent —of final costs.
“First, it appears that the USAF has accepted the use of existing systems (with some evolution and customisation) rather than attempting to introduce a raft of new and untested technical systems.
“Moreover, production has started on the initial six aircraft, and the cost estimate appears to be holding. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that the independent cost estimates required by US legislation are actually lower than the current budget.”
The investigation, while not drawing any conclusions, hails the B-21 as the “gold standard” of strike capability and argues that it could be more affordable and deliver better benefits than long-range missiles alone.
“It was analysis of this kind that persuaded the US Air Force to go down the path of a new bomber.”
B-21 Raider manufacturer Northrop Grumman said the world had “never seen technology” like it had developed for the bomber, while US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin added it was so advanced that even the most sophisticated air defence systems wouldn’t be able to detect it.
“This isn’t just another aeroplane,” said Austin. “It’s not just another acquisition. It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love. It’s a testament to our strategy of deterrence — with the capabilities to back it up, every time and everywhere.”
Northrop was first awarded the contract for the B-21 in 2015, and its development team includes more than 8,000 people from the prime, its industry partners and the US Air Force.
Australian Aviation reported last week how the US gave its biggest hint yet that it would be prepared to sell the B-21 Raider to Australia after it emerged the Chief of the RAAF was invited to its unveiling.
Air Marshal Robert Chipman described the ceremony in California, hosted by Northrop Grumman last week, as an “awesome display of US innovation”.
The dramatic first reveal, which you can watch here, represented the first time the “sixth-generation” aircraft had been seen outside artists’ impressions and the first unveiling of a new US bomber in more than 30 years.
The US is set to purchase 100, but some analysts have suggested the country wouldn’t part with the secrets to the aircraft set to be the talisman of the American military.
Defence Minister Richard Marles previously said purchasing the B-21 was something that was “being examined” while US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall suggested his country would be “willing to talk” about a deal. Any final decision, however, would likely be made by President Joe Biden.