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'Attractive Museum Piece': Aging US B-2 Stealth Bombers Outdated in Every Respect

© AP Photo / Cliff SchiappaA B-2 stealth bomber taxis at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Mo.
A B-2 stealth bomber taxis at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Mo. - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.05.2024
The US has recalled its second B-2 Spirit aircraft since 2008, reducing its fleet of secretive stealth bombers to 19. What message does the incident send about the US Air Force's capabilities?
The US Air Force has announced that it won't repair its Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber damaged in an accident at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.
This is the second of its type to be lost to the Pentagon after another B-2 suffered a severe crash at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam in 2008. In addition, the planes have seen repeated mishaps, raising questions about their operability and maintenance.
"The earlier accident in September 2021 and the recent one were both described as 'in-flight malfunction during routine operations' and required an immediate landing. The airframe was designed in the 1980s and first deployed in 1997, and the B-2 was scheduled to 'retire' in 2030. It could be as simple as a mechanical and software degradation," retired US Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a former analyst for the US Department of Defense, told Sputnik.
B-2 Stealth Bomber. - Sputnik International, 1920, 20.12.2022
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The B-2A Spirit was designed to stealthily deliver both conventional and nuclear munitions deep into the enemy territory. The warplane is one of the most expensive US weapon systems with a price tag of around $4 billion per piece, according to some estimates. Between 1988 and 1997, aerospace manufacturer Northrop Grumman built 21 B-2s, meaning that the US Air Force's fleet has been recently reduced to 19 stealth bombers.
"The logic of the Pentagon and Congress pursuing was what originally 200 B-2 units (actual production 20 plus the prototype) at $4 billion each (in 2023) relates to ideology as well as Air Force and Navy competition between the services for significance in the nuclear defense triad (strategic bombers, land-based ICBMs, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles)," explained the former Pentagon analyst.
"In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet Union led the US in both land and sea-based ICBM capability, and the US had the lead in strategic bombers. Thus, the Soviets developed defenses against those bombers, driving the US Air Force to propose both supersonic and stealthy bomber aircraft to get through the Soviet defenses. Computing and materials science seemed to be an area the US was leading and would be able to master – and yet the complexity and cost of these designs proved to limit both their ability to be deployed, and the number the American taxpayer could afford."
Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider. - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.12.2022
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According to Kwiatkowski, the B-2 program is a "classic example of experience and sunk cost biases." She added that "this arc of decision-making" continues with the similarly expensive, outdated upon deployment, and high-maintenance B-21.
The former Pentagon analyst continued that the B-2 has been utilized rarely and became infamous for bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade 25 years ago.
Meanwhile, the concept of manned bombers appears to be no longer relevant, the retired lieutenant colonel remarked, referring to the modern idea of completely computer-dependent aircraft that do not need actual pilots or any of their value-added combat decision-making value. Given this, the aging B-2 is also conceptually outdated, according to Sputnik's interlocutor.
"The follow-on from the B-2, the B-21 Raider, recently prototyped, is the strategic bomber corollary to the most expensive aircraft we have, the F-35, which again has proven itself to be less than durable, easily overcome by weather and counter-measures, and heavily dependent on software updates," she noted.
Kwiatkowski is highly skeptical about the B-2's future. She presumed it would be "a good sacrifice aircraft to deliver payload and then crash into a facility or target" or a plane for "domestic surveillance and attacks in case of a civil conflict."
Alternatively, "It is an attractive museum piece as well, with its 'flying wing' design, and the US will keep several B-2s in the famous Arizona 'boneyard'," the retired lieutenant colonel postulated.
In this photo released by the U.S. Navy, the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, front, and the landing ship USS Carter Hall, back travel through the Red Sea - Sputnik International, 1920, 09.05.2024
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