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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.

Related: The linchpin technology behind Boeing’s 797

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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Jon Ostrower is Editor-in-chief of The Air Current. Prior to launching TAC in June 2018, Ostrower served as Aviation Editor for CNN Worldwide, guiding the network's global coverage of the business and operations of flying. Ostrower joined CNN in 2016 following four and half years at the Wall Street Journal. Based first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C. he covered Boeing, aviation safety and the business of global aerospace. Before that, Ostrower was editor of the award-winning FlightBlogger for Flightglobal and Flight International Magazine covering the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other new aircraft programs from 2007 to 2012. Ostrower, a Boston native, graduated from The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs with a bachelor's degree in Political Communication. He is based in Seattle.

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