At the annual Air Force Association meeting in Washington, D.C., Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James announced the name of the future B-21 “Raider” stealth bomber, honoring one of the most strategic missions in the history of the Air Force. The Air Force held a contest for the naming of the bomber.
An innovative World War II mission, the 1942 Doolittle Raid was launched in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Army Air Forces adapted the B-25 Mitchell bomber, making it light enough to be able to fly far enough to strike Japan. It was the first American strike against mainland Japanese targets during the war. After the airstrike, the plan was for the bombers to continue to fly west, to eventually land in China. Of the 16 B-25s that embarked upon the mission, 15 of them made it to China, all of them crash-landing there. Remarkably, of the 80 crewmembers, only three were lost in the raid, while four others died—three were executed—after being captured by occupying Japanese troops in China. A single bomber made a safe landing at Vladivostok in the Soviet Union, though its crewmembers were held as prisoners for a year afterward.
In the end, the mission was deemed a huge success, as it brought home to Japan’s leadership that they weren’t safe on home soil from American attacks. The attack was also a big boost to the morale of American troops.
Attending the announcement ceremony was 101-year-old retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, the last living airman of the Doolittle Raid. “I am very humbled to be here representing Gen. Doolittle and the Raiders at the naming of the B-21 Raider,” said Cole, “and wish they were here. We are deeply honored.”
According to the Air Force, the B-21 Raider will look similar to the current B-2 Spirit stealth bomber in many ways, but will have improved propulsion and stealth abilities to stay ahead of rapidly modernizing forces in Russia and China. The B-21 will carry the B-61-12 upgraded nuclear bomb, as well as a cruise missile projected to reach distances of up to 3,000 miles. These weapon upgrades are still in development.
The B-21 Raider isn’t expected to be in service until the mid-2020s.