Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force signed an industry-first data rights agreement recently, opening B-21 data access and collaboration across the program, including the launch of a shared environment for the B-21 digital twin.

The agreement establishes a level of access to common data and data environments that had not yet been accomplished on a program of this scale or this early in the lifecycle. It creates greater transparency and collaboration between Northrop Grumman and the Air Force, helping to deliver greater affordability and rapid upgradability throughout the program lifecycle. Northrop Grumman has placed a high priority on driving digital engineering further into the B-21 enterprise.

Also earlier this year, Northrop Grumman and the Air Force successfully demonstrated the migration of B-21 ground systems data to a cloud environment. This demonstration included the development, deployment and test of a suite of B-21 data, including the B-21 digital twin, that will support B-21 operations and sustainment. This successful test proved the ground systems footprint can be significantly reduced at main operating bases and in deployment packages. This approach will drive affordability and readiness advantages in operations and sustainment.

The B-21 program’s achievements in data access and data management are best practices Northrop Grumman is using to benefit other programs across the company.

“The B-21 Raider is a true digital native, and this data rights agreement coupled with the cloud based digital twin allow us to drive down risk in the EMD phase, will enable rapid capability upgrades and lowers sustainment cost over the life of the program,” said Doug Young, sector vice president and general manager, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems.

As the B-21 continues its ground test phase, the team will power up the aircraft, test its subsystems, and apply coatings and paint. The next steps will include carrying out engine runs as well as low-speed and high-speed taxi tests, and then on to first flight.

Northrop Grumman has invested in a robust production program — one that is foundational to the National Defense Strategy — to deliver the B-21 at a rate that will have a real effect for the Air Force in meeting evolving threats. Innovative application of digital engineering and commercial off-the-shelf digital tools continue to deliver an advanced degree of precision and efficiency in the build process, with production risk reduction progressing every day as B-21 test aircraft move down the actual production line.

On September 20, 2022, Northrop Grumman announced it will unveil the B-21 Raider during the first week of December at the company’s Palmdale, California facility, in partnership with the Air Force. The first flight projection of 2023, as has been reported by the Air Force, is aligned with the information communicated during the company's 2022 earnings calls and remains on-schedule to the government Acquisition Program Baseline.

As the Air Force has indicated, the focus is on a safe first flight of a production representative aircraft. With six aircraft in various stages of production and test, Northrop Grumman is progressing toward that objective as it continues to reduce risk, refine the building process, and mature the test fleet ahead of first flight.