The B-21 is one of the most secret programs in recent times. We're supposedly 2 years away from first flight and virtually no images except a simple sketch. Very little performance data has been released. Compare that to the much more public F-35. Coincidentally, the F-35 is the first and so far only stealth aircraft the US has exported. I don't see an export sale of the B-21 anytime soon.
Interesting, I don’t see the secret nature of the B-21 as being an issue for export. Australia is as trusted an ally as the US can get. For example they were the first and remain the only US Ally to have the Growler exported, have RAAF aircrew fly and fight in the F-22 and cooperate deeply in the intelligence space. The RAAF was also offered the F-22 in the late 90s but turned it down due to budgetary considerations.
I do see why Australia may want a long-range bomber. Obviously, the B-21 is the only such (western) aircraft in production today; and I agree that retired B-1 or B-52 are not a realistic option. Medium term, a light carrier fleet may be a better choice for long-range adventures? For US$10 billion, you could probably get 2 LHA's; alternatively you could get 4 to 5 Juan Carlos / Canberra class carriers (including a set of F-35B for ~40 jets total). For the same amount, you may get a fleet of 12 - 20 B-21s.
So the issue with an alternative LHA/LHD plan is people. The ADF generally has the money to afford new equipment but has and continues to struggle to employ sufficient staff to operate it. The RAN is a good example as even though they notionally operate six submarines reports are that they have sufficient crews for half that number and yet are embarking on building a new class of twelve boats… Same with the LHDs, staffing for key positions and technical skill sets remain an issue.
How many additional personnel would be required to operate two more LHD/LHA class vessels? The Canberra LHDs requires approx. 350 plus air wing in the case of F-35B, the USS America LHA requires 1000… Then consider that for every additional LHA/LHD you acquire you probably need at least one and likely two additional AEGIS destroyers and one or two T26 frigates, plus additional supply vessels to support those assets away from the Australian mainland. The proposal for additional ships isn’t really viable once you factor all those additional requirements.
Compare that to replacing the SH capability with a B-21, the squadron numbers for maintenance may increase slightly when you replace 24 aircraft with 12-20 larger airframes, the aircrew numbers will be reasonably the same given the RAAF SHs are two seat anyway. If operating a B-21 capability came down to simply more money over more personnel then the ADF is well positioned to do that. That was the thrust of the article I posted, than a high tech low manpower force is what Australia would do well.
The Aussies are going to have to take a good hard look at how they want to navigate the future before making this consideration. China's in bed with Australian business as much as they are in America and that has national security implications. Are they going to decouple with China as the US is looking to do? If so, they need to start working in that direction.
Decoupling from China is an interesting suggestion, I don’t think it is possible at this point but it also has issues for China given Australian companies are the largest exporter of a number of critical raw materials, for example iron ore.
Next, how do they want to position themselves regionally and strategically? If they don't want to host US forces but they don't want to be bullied by China's creeping assertive military behavior, they need to be able to stand on their own. If they are looking to acquire strategic weapons and platforms, that carries with it the threat of drawing China's attention because it's another threat to regional stability (in their eyes).
Australia already hosts US forces, they have upwards of 3000 US Marines stationed in Darwin for 6 months every year and the Pine Gap Joint defence Base near Alice Springs. They also routinely host USAF aircraft that use the ranges in Northern Australia.
I consider that China is looking South almost as much as it looks East with respect to its strategic interests given Australia has a long and strong history of alliance with the US. For example,Chinese spy ship staying just outside Australia's territorial waters ahead of Talisman Sabre war gameshttps://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-12/ ... s/11302694
Now.. I don't see the US willing to export the B-21 because strategic bombers can be destabilizing, especially something as advanced and LO as the B-21 and the Aussies don't (officially) have nuclear weapons in their arsenal to really get the full benefit of the B-21.
Certainly no nuclear weapons in Australia, other than the remnants left over from British tests in the 50s, but that is why we have the US as a key ally. You could argue that, especially in the context of a USAF desire for more strategic bombers, than opening the aircraft up for export to a key regional ally would be an important strategic decision for the US. I don’t think Indonesia would really care but the strongest critic would likely be China who will also probably be operating their new strategic stealth bomber in the same timeframe.
Perhaps there's a matured tactical bomber concept out in the Nevada desert somewhere, based on the FB-22 or other, that can fill their needs. The F-35 is a fairly capable bird but it'd be a major jump to ask for the B-21 from where they are now.
Any acquisition of a bomber by Australia would be wholly an off the shelf acquisition. They would almost certainly not fund a development program for a manned aircraft. For tactical considerations I think drones would likely remain the preference to support F-35 operations.
A lot of things to think about before going down that road... one that would inevitably lead to Chinese (nuclear) weapons being pointed at Australia.
Given existing US military presence and bases in Australia I expect China do already consider Australia a target. Whether they have enough weapons to go for US and regional nations is another issue but Australia is now within long range bomber launched cruise missile range so the prospect of nuclear cruise missiles and not ICBM is already feasible.