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B-21 bomber
The Air Force’s B-21 bomber has that characteristic stealthy look. (Credit: USAF)

Today the U.S. Air Force took the wraps off the design for its Long Range Strike Bomber, now known as the B-21, and said it’d be taking suggestions for a snappier name from its service members.

“This aircraft represents the future for our airmen, and (their) voice is important to this process,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a news release. The announcement was made at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla.

James said the person who suggests the winning name would help her announce it at this fall’s Air Force Association conference. Further information on the naming procedure will be made available via the Air Force’s website as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Last October, Northrop Grumman won the contract to develop the B-21, which could ultimately be worth $80 billion or more. Boeing and Lockheed Martin lost out, and last week the Government Accountability Office turned back a protest from those two companies. Bloomberg News quoted unidentified sources as saying that Boeing and Lockheed Martin won’t contest the contract further.

The B-21 has the stealthy look associated with the B-2 Spirit bomber, which is also built by Northrop Grumman. James said that was intentional. “The B-21 has been designed from the beginning based on a set of requirements that allows the use of existing and mature technology,” she said.

The new plane is designed to replace the decades-old B-1 and B-52 long-range bombers in the Air Force’s fleet. The B-2 also has long-range capability, but only 20 of them remain in service. “We simply built too few,” six retired Air Force generals said in a commentary published by Breaking Defense when the B-21 contract was awarded.

The Air Force said the “21” designation was chosen in recognition that this would be the first bomber of the 21st century. The B-21 is expected to enter service in the mid-2020s.

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