China subtext heavy as Northrop Grumman lifts veil on B-21

Nuclear-capable Raider unveiled as cheap drones reign supreme on the modern battlefield.

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After seven years in development, the public debut of Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider — one leg of the U.S. nuclear triad along with submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles — was unveiled in a December 2 ceremony after-dark (presumably to minimize space-based snooping) bristling with geopolitical and technical significance.

“The B-21 unveiled here is part of this credible Joint Force that will uphold the rules-based international order for the United States and all of our allies and partners for future generations,” said U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the ceremony, without mentioning any potential adversary by name.

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Yet, Austin made direct allusion to the soft power competition that defines the U.S. and China and their systems of governance. “We’re driven to keep pushing the limits. We’re powered by the boldness of open minds and the confidence of an open society and that’s a strategic advantage that no competitor can match,” said Austin. “This is deterrence the American way. It’s driven by some of America’s great strengths by the openness of our democracy, by partnerships with free enterprise that can deliver unmatched innovation.”

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