The United States Air Force has unveiled its latest high-tech strategic bomber – the B-21 Raider – which can carry conventional and nuclear payloads.
A ceremony at arms manufacturer Northrop Grumman's facility in California, attended by top US officials on Friday, was where they revealed the next-generation stealth bomber.
Northrop Grumman says the B-21 Raider will be "capable of penetrating the toughest defences to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world" and "is the future of deterrence".
The US Air Force plans to buy at least 100 of the B-21 aircraft, which comes with a $700m price tag per aircraft, a Northrop Grumman spokesperson said.
The B-21 is a long-range strike stealth bomber with high survivability. It will incrementally replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers, becoming the backbone of the US Air Force's bomber fleet, according to the US Air Force.
Northrop Grumman says: "The B-21 will join the nuclear triad as a visible and flexible nuclear deterrent; supporting national security objectives and assuring our nation's allies and partners."
Air Force Chief of Staff General C Q Brown Jr said "the unveiling of the B-21 Raider will be a historic moment for our Air Force and the nation".
"We last introduced a new bomber over 30 years ago. As we look to the threats posed by our pacing challenge; we must continue to rapidly modernise.
"The B-21 Raider will provide formidable combat capability across a range of operations in highly contested environments of the future."
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin did add during the ceremony that the B-21 was "a testament to America's enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation".
Mr Austin added that the plane would offer significant advances over existing bombers in the US fleet, commenting that "even the most sophisticated air defence systems will struggle to detect the B-21 in the sky".
"Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft," he said during the ceremony.
The Raider will provide the US Air Force with long-range, high survivability and mission payload flexibility with the ability to penetrate the toughest defences for precision strikes anywhere in the world.
Northrop Grumman, the B-21 Raider's manufacturer released some key facts about the bomber:
Sixth Generation: It is the next evolution of the US Air Force strategic bomber fleet developed with the next generation of stealth technology, advanced networking capabilities and an open systems architecture, optimised for the high-end threat environment.
Stealth: Northrop Grumman is employing new manufacturing techniques and materials to ensure the B-21 will beat possible anti-access, area-denial systems it will face.
The backbone of the fleet: The B-21 will deliver a new era of capability and flexibility through advanced integration of data, sensors and weapons. Capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads, the B-21 will be one of the most effective aircraft in the sky, with the ability to use a broad mix of stand-off and direct attack munitions.
A Digital Bomber: Northrop Grumman uses software development, advanced manufacturing techniques and digital engineering tools to help mitigate production risk on the B-21 program and enable modern sustainment practices.
Open Architecture: Unlike earlier generation aircraft, the B-21 will not undergo block upgrades. New technology, capabilities and weapons will be seamlessly incorporated through agile software upgrades and built-in hardware flexibility.
Raider: The B-21 Raider is named in honour of the Doolittle Raid of World War II when 80 airmen, led by Lt Col James 'Jimmy' Doolittle, and 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers set off on a mission that changed the course of Second World War. The Doolittle Raiders are the inspiration behind the name of the B-21 Raider.
With the unveiling now done, the B-21 program will continue its rigorous testing campaign with a combined team of professionals from the air force test centre, air force operational test and evaluation centre, and Northrop Grumman.
Their work will look to verify performance and identify any possible areas for improvement for the weapon system.
Due to the programme's classified nature, the US Air Force has not publicly shared a production schedule.
The US Air Force has stated that the initial test aircraft is currently in production at Northrop Grumman's manufacturing facility in Palmdale, California, and it expects the first aircraft deliveries in the mid-2020s.
The first flight by a B-21 is expected to take place next year.