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### US Fighter Triggers China’s Fascination with Nuclear Weapons and AI

It’s the only U.S. Air Force combat plane with the range and stealth to chase China’s mobile missil…

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The inaugural flight of the highly classified B-21 Raider stealth bomber from the Air Force took place on November 10 in California, soaring just above the treetops near the factory on its way to EdwardsAFB.

Interestingly, this event coincided with President Xi Jinping of China’s visit to San Francisco, during which China unexpectedly expressed interest in engaging in discussions on AI and nuclear weaponry.

Following President Biden’s meeting with Xi, the White House announced on November 15 that “officials stressed the importance of addressing the risks posed by advanced AI systems and enhancing AI safety through bilateral agreements between the U.S. and China.”

It is not surprising that the B-21 is heavily reliant on AI technology. In the event of nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran, it stands out as the only combat aircraft in the U.S. Air Force equipped with the adaptability and sophistication to counter China’s mobile missiles and carry significant bunker-penetrating munitions.

This bomber signifies a technological advancement that surpasses anything in China’s arsenal. With state-of-the-art innovations, the B-21 integrates stealth technology and a sleek design. The Pratt & Whitney engines that power the B-21 provide ample thrust for both manned missions and AI-driven operations.

As China enhances its nuclear capabilities in the 2030s, this new aircraft is positioned to play a crucial role in the nuclear deterrence strategy.

In the upcoming months, the B-21 will undergo minor modifications to its flight testing program, including the testing of retractable landing gear during flight. The cautious approach of keeping the landing gear down during the maiden voyage is understandable—why take unnecessary risks?

The B-21 is steadily progressing towards achieving combat readiness as it undergoes rigorous flight testing. There are rumors that the actual B-21 aircraft that recently flew has been named “Cerberus,” inspired by the mythical three-headed dog guarding the underworld. This tradition of aircraft naming dates back to the early B-2 bombers, which were nicknamed Fire and Ice, Penny the Pig, and Christine, paying tribute to Stephen King’s renowned novel.

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The B-21 is not just a randomly designed aircraft; it signifies production readiness, with Northrop Grumman already working on at least six additional B-21s in various stages of development, aiming for a production run exceeding 100 aircraft.

B-21 side view

The B-21, a sixth-generation stealth aircraft designed to evade radar detection, serves as a flagship of the United States Air Force.

Within the next two to three years, the B-21 is expected to become operational, with nuclear certification following shortly after. The AI capabilities of the B-21 Raider are set to establish a new benchmark for aerial platforms.

China is well aware of this progress. While Chinese diplomats engage in fruitless arms control negotiations, their military aviators are embracing AI technology.

Senior Chinese fighter pilot Zhang Xiao emphasized the potential of AI in military decision-making, stating that the technology “can synthesize contextual information to assist military personnel in making more effective and precise decisions.”

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China envisions a future where all weapons are interconnected through a robust communication network, leveraging artificial intelligence to process, select, and prioritize vast amounts of data before presenting it to human operators, enabling them to make optimal decisions for mission success.

While China advances its capabilities, the B-21 remains at the forefront. This fifth-generation stealth aircraft, characterized by its sleek design and radar-evading features, serves as the linchpin of a new ecosystem of interconnected systems that leverage AI across network capabilities, weaponry, and drones.

AI plays a pivotal role in this scenario. The B-21 can identify emerging radar threats, analyze them using AI algorithms, and relay the information to a central server system while rerouting sensor and communication data around jamming attempts.

Air Force

There is a possibility that the B-21 could eventually operate autonomously, without a human crew onboard. (Photo courtesy of the US Air Force)

While electronic warfare and jamming techniques have been utilized since the Vietnam War, the integration of AI for signal processing and data analysis onboard the aircraft represents a significant advancement. This concept, known as Cognitive Electronic Warfare, entails an adaptive program that learns to defend against threats and anticipate enemy actions during combat operations, providing the pilot with enhanced maneuvering capabilities and defensive measures.

Furthermore, the B-21’s AI capabilities enable seamless communication with unmanned drones or other aircraft within the network, offering a critical military advantage against the defensive systems of potential adversaries like China, Russia, or Iran.

While the prospect of autonomous operation for the B-21 looms on the horizon, for now, the synergy between human pilots and advanced AI remains the winning combination.

It is evident why Chinese officials would seek to dissuade the use of AI in the B-21 and other military applications. Nevertheless, the B-21 Raider stands as a testament to America’s continued supremacy in long-range airpower.

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Last modified: February 27, 2024
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