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Air Force Unveils Its New B-21 Stealth Nuclear Bomber

A shrouded B-21 bomber
Northrup Grumman
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Friday, December 2, 2022

Joyous salutations on this Friday evening! Let’s get right to it.

Air Force to Unveil New Stealth Nuclear Bomber, the B-21

After years of secret development, the Air Force is set to unveil its first new bomber in more than three decades, the B-21 Raider.

The first sixth-generation fighter jet, the B-21 is being called "the world’s most advanced strike aircraft" by its manufacturer, Northrup Grumman. The Defense Department has said it "will be the most capable bomber the world has ever seen."

"The B-21 is a long-range, highly survivable, penetrating strike stealth bomber that will incrementally replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers, becoming the backbone of the U.S. Air Force bomber fleet," reads a note on the Edwards Air Force Base YouTube page, where the unveiling event, hosted by Northrup in Palmdale, California, will be livestreamed at 8 p.m. ET.

The bomber can deliver both conventional and nuclear payloads, with or without a human crew.

What they look like: Almost every aspect of the stealth nuclear bomber program is classified, the Associated Press reports, and only artists' renderings of the plane have been released. Based on those images, the B-21 resembles a slightly smaller version of the B-2 bomber it is meant to replace.

Northrup says that the similarities end once you look beyond the external design. The new bombers have been built with an open architecture that Northrup says will allow for future software upgrades and hardware flexibility that will enable the planes to be used for decades.

Northrup said this week that six B-21s are in various stages of assembly and testing at its Palmdale plant. The jet's first flight is expected to take place next year. The B-21 team includes more than 8,000 people — and more than 400 suppliers across 40 states.

What they cost: The Air Force planned to buy 100 of the planes, at least, and each of the bombers "was projected to cost approximately $550 million each in 2010 dollars, or about $750 million in today's inflation-adjusted dollars," Reuters reports.

But those are just projections, and it’s unclear what the Air Force is actually spending, the AP notes. "It might be a big challenge for us to do our normal analysis of a major program like this," Dan Grazier, a senior defense policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, told the news service. "It's easy to say that the B-21 is still on schedule before it actually flies. Because it's only when one of these programs goes into the actual testing phase when real problems are discovered. And so that's the point when schedules really start to slip and costs really start to rise."

The Defense Department’s 2023 budget request included more than $5 billion for the program, and reportedly said that the Air Force plans to spend $19.1 billion on the bombers from fiscal 2023 to 2027. The program overall is estimated to cost at least $203 billion over 30 years.

Why it matters: The new bomber is part of the Pentagon's effort to modernize its nuclear triad and shift its strategic emphasis. "We needed a new bomber for the 21st Century that would allow us to take on much more complicated threats, like the threats that we fear we would one day face from China, Russia, " Deborah Lee James, the Air Force secretary when the Raider contract was announced in 2015, told the AP. "The B-21 is more survivable and can take on these much more difficult threats."

Good News for Workers, Bad News for the Fed as Job and Wage Growth Continues

In a sign that the U.S. labor market remains exceptionally tight, employers added a higher-than-expected 263,000 jobs in November, while average hourly wages grew by 5.1% on an annual basis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.7%.

The data comes a day after new inflation data suggested that price increases in the economy are easing, but Friday’s report shows that the labor market is still remarkably strong — and the Federal Reserve still has its work cut out for it as it tries to slow the economy by tightening monetary conditions.

The report sent stocks tumbling as traders contemplated the threat of higher interest rates from the Fed, though shares recovered later in the day. Most investors still think that the Fed will raise its key rate by 50 basis points in December, less than it has at its previous four meetings, but the strong labor market data likely increases the odds that the Fed will raise rates higher and keep them high longer in its war against inflation.

Here’s what some experts are saying about the jobs report:

Labor market stays hot: "To have 263,000 jobs added even after policy rates have been raised by some [375] basis points is no joke," said Seema Shah, chief global strategist at Principal Asset Management. "The labor market is hot, hot, hot, heaping pressure on the Fed to continue raising policy rates."

Sending mixed signals: "The job market continues to chug along despite various headwinds," Daniel Zhao, lead economist at Glassdoor, told The Washington Post. "We are getting some mixed signals from the report — that isn’t a surprise at a time when the economy is at a turning point — but stepping back, this still points to a job market that is more resilient than we expected. On the flip side of that, inflation has been more resilient than we expected, too."

The Fed has more work to do: "The November employment report delivers a holiday season package of good news for American workers, including a strong increase in wages," Mark Hamrick of Bankrate said in a statement. "In keeping with the classic divide sometimes seen between Main Street and Wall Street, the report tells the Federal Reserve it has more work to do in its battle against inflation."

Labor market still key: "It upsets some of the narrative going into the report, which was that things are slowing down," said Neil Dutta of Renaissance Macro. "The reason that this matters for everyone is that the Fed still sees the labor market as the mechanism by which they can solve the inflation problem."

Recession more likely? RSM chief economist Joseph Brusuelas said he now expects interest rates to move even higher. "The primary policy takeaway from the report is that the Federal Reserve will need to lift its policy rate above 5% ─ perhaps as high as 5.5% ─ before entertaining any idea of a pause in its efforts to restore price stability," he wrote Friday. "The chance that the Fed can engineer a soft landing for the economy has narrowed and supports our forecast of a mild recession next year."

Chart of the Day

The U.S. economy now has more than 1 million jobs more than it did before the pandemic, as this chart from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget details.

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