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B-21 Reveal Takes a Page From Elon Musk

The military is "revealing" its newest secret weapon system.
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Elon Musk is controversial, emotional and very, very rich. 

He's also probably the best business showman since Steve Jobs ran Apple. 

Musk's outside-the-box thinking was on display again this week as Tesla's  (TSLA) - Get Free Report CEO delivered the first of the company's much anticipated, and often delayed, semi trucks. 

Musk likes to make entrances when he does these things, so, of course, he had to ride into the announcement area in one of the new trucks.  

But in addition to the in-person showmanship, there's a lot of visual crafting that goes into the presentations. 

Ahead of the actual event, those skills were on display as well. 

The initial images of the truck on Tesla's live feed were almost entirely black, except for its looming headlights. It's a good visual trick that quickly conveys the idea of "something new emerging from the dark." It tends to spark interest in the visual center of our cerebral cortex by conveying a sense of mystery and suspense.

Little wonder then that other organizations have taken note of Musk's success lately, including, apparently, the U.S. Air Force. 

A New Bomber

The Air Force on Friday "revealed" its latest nuclear bomber in a special event at Palmdale, Calif., which was carried on Facebook and other social media outlets. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attended and spoke as the Air Force revealed the B-21 stealth bomber. 

The plane is being built by Northrop Grumman  (NOC) - Get Free Report at its facility in Palmdale in the high desert northeast of Los Angeles. 

And in this case there really is a lot of mystery. Ahead of the event, the Air Force had released only artist's renderings of the plane. 

Among the many unknowns are how much each plane will actually cost. The Air Force had put the average price at $550 million in 2010 dollars, the Associated Press reported. That's roughly $753 million now. But because in-flight testing has yet to begin, the costs of working out design problems aren't known. 

Suffice to say, the plan is already in striking distance of a $1 billion MSRP.

Tesla Semi Air Force New Bomber Lead KL 120222

Target Audience

Musk's target audience for his event was largely corporate logistics types and truck drivers. Those are the people whose decisions and reactions will make the most difference to sales of the vehicle. 

The audience for the bomber revelation is a different and political one. 

In effect, the Air Force, and Northrop Grumman, have to put on a show that's good enough to keep Congress coming back for more, and China on edge. Hence the Facebook reveal. 

And sure enough, the new plane's image on the Air Force Facebook page showed it head on with just enough lights to show the shrouded plane. Cue the suspenseful music!

Big, expensive defense projects are tough to get started, but hard to kill once they get going. The B-21 program is already several years old and has sparked a resurgence in aerospace operations in the area, The Los Angeles Times reported. That's great for elected officials who want to boast of "binging home the bacon."

But flight testing isn't set to begin until next year and will likely run into many problems that will send costs soaring. 

Those can end up curtailing even the best laid plans of defense contractors and military officers. The Air Force originally planned for 100 B-2 bombers, but in the end, only 21 were built.

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