Military.com | By Oriana Pawlyk

The U.S. Air Force has selected Edwards Air Force Base, California, and Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, to be the lead facilities for test and evaluation and maintenance and sustainment, respectively, for the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber program.

The service last week announced the decision, a new sliver of public information in the longstanding, highly classified program to create the U.S.’ next long-range stealth bomber, known as the Raider.

The latest announcement comes as the Northrop Grumman-made B-21 is expected to enter its critical design review milestone next month. The bomber, the Pentagon’s latest multibillion-dollar program, passed its preliminary design review last year.

It’s no surprise that Edwards, home to the Air Force Test Center, will be the main facility to test the B-21. For decades, the base’s testing hub has overseen the experimental X-plane development, as well as programs such as the F-117A Nighthawk; the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber; the YF-22A and the YF-23A (the Y-F-22A was ultimately the finalist in the service’s Advanced Tactical Fighter competition and would become the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter); the SR-71 Blackbird; and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Tinker, meanwhile, is the host base for the Air Force Sustainment Center and Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, the largest of three depot repair complexes within Air Force Materiel Command.

The service said that Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and Hill Air Force Base, Utah, will support Tinker “to ensure the advanced B-21 is maintained and, when necessary, overhauled and upgraded” with assemblies or subassemblies for the depot as necessary.

“With a talented workforce and decades of experience in aircraft maintenance, Tinker is the right place for this critical mission,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in a statement.

“From flight testing the X-15 to the F-117, Edwards in the Mojave Desert has been at the forefront of keeping our Air Force on the cutting edge,” Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein added in another statement. “Now, testing the B-21 Raider will begin another historic chapter in the base’s history.”

Northrop’s Melbourne, Florida, facility is the site of the Raider design and development headquarters, the release said. Currently, the bomber is in its engineering and manufacturing development phase.

The Air Force awarded Northrop the contract, initially worth $21.4 billion, in 2015.

Total program costs are expected to exceed $55 billion.

The first B-21 is expected to reach initial operating capability in the mid-2020s.