The U.S. Air Force has unveiled the name of the future stealth bomber as the B-21 Raider.
Paying homage to the inspiration for the name, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James handed the mic to World War II veteran Richard E. Cole, the 101-year-old retired lieutenant colonel and the last surviving "Doolittle Raider," to make the announcement on Monday at the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, just south of Washington, D.C.
Cole served as co-pilot to Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who led 16 B-25 bombers and 80 crew members from an aircraft carrier in the western Pacific Ocean on a strike to target factory areas and military installations in and around Tokyo on April 18, 1942 -- a successful mission that helped boost morale after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
"I thought it was quite a nice tribute," Cole said after his appearance on stage. "I would feel a lot better about it if all the guys were here, but it's not possible."
Raider was selected as the name of the Long Range Strike-Bomber, or LRS-B, by leaders after the service launched a survey of service members. Air Force Global Strike Command in March launched a website asking airmen, their family members and retirees to suggest names for the next-generation aircraft.
Participants who submitted the winning entries were identified as Lt. Col. Jaime I. Hernandez, commander of the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas; and Tech. Sgt. Derek D. White, emergency management craftsman with the 175th Civil Engineering Squadron for the Maryland Air National Guard.
The Air Force plans to buy 100 of the new bombers from Northrop Grumman Corp., the same company that manufactured the B-2 Spirit, to replace its fleet of B-52 Stratofortresses and a portion of its fleet of B-1 Lancers. Not many details have been shared about the B-21. And the Air Force's photos of the mock-up have critics grumbling that the future bomber closely resembles the B-2.
Northrop in October beat out Boeing Co., the world's largest aerospace company, and Lockheed Martin Corp., the world's largest defense contractor, for the $21.4 billion initial contract as part of the LRS-B program.
Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, suggested the Air Force might need to buy even more of the new bombers.
"We haven't set the official number," he said of the quantity during a panel discussion later in the day. "We need to start with a minimum of 100 B-21s. We need to really dig our heels in on, 'What should that ceiling be?'"
--Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at email@example.com.