A panel of aerospace and defense analysts suggested using the B-21 stealth bomber as the next Air Force One, replacing the classic Boeing 747 platform.
The panel produced a report for Wright Williams & Kelly, a cost management software and consulting company, in order to address President Donald Trump’s concerns regarding the expensive Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program. The program aims to spend billions to modify two or three 747-8s into presidential transports. Northrop Grumman’s B-21 platform was suggested as a possible alternative, given its high degree of safety and survivability.
“The 747 is a fat radar target, about the size of a B-52,” Danny Lam, one of the report’s contributors and the group’s official spokesman, to Aviation Week. “[The B-21] has stealth built in, it’s nuclear-rated and heavily shielded right off the bat. It’s going to be terribly cramped but man, it would be a survivable platform, especially if operated in twos and threes.”
Lan noted that the proliferation of advanced surface-to-air missiles among “non-state actors and guerrilla groups” poses a serious threat to the 747-8 version of Air Force One. The B-21’s stealth capabilities would help mitigate such a threat.
The Air Force awarded Northrop the contract to produce the B-21 as part of the Long Range Strike Bomber program in October 2015. The aircraft bears a resemblance to its predecessor, the currently-operated B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, which the panel used as its basis to investigate the possibility of using the B-21. The new bomber is expected to carry a large arsenal of conventional and thermonuclear weapons, including the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 20 ft.-long, 30,000-lb. bomb.
An Air Force One version of the B-21 would most likely have its internal weapons bay removed, according to Lam, allowing it to carry additional personnel. But a gutted version of the B-21 may not provide enough room for the large entourage of staffers, security and press that usually travels with the president. Should the B-21 be used as the next Air Force One, some of the those individuals would have to be transported in a separate aircraft.
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