Description : The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit is ...(more)a multirole heavy bomber with "low observable" stealth technology capable of penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons. Because of its astronomical capital and operations costs, the project was controversial in Congress and among Pentagon brass during its development and placement into service. In time, Congress scaled back initial plans to purchase 132 of the bombers. By the early 1990s the United States elected to purchase just 21 of the bombers. The total program cost averaged US$2.1 billion per aircraft with procurement costs averaging US$737 million per airframe.
A two officer crew aboard the bomber can drop up to eighty 500 lb (230 kg) class JDAM "smart" bombs, or sixteen 2,400 lb (1,100 kg) B83 nuclear bombs in a single pass through extremely dense anti-aircraft defenses. The bomber has been a prominent public spectacle at air shows since the 1990s. It has been the subject of espionage and counter-espionage activity.
Its combat debut was during the Kosovo War in 1999. It was responsible for destroying 33 percent of selected Serbian bombing targets in the first eight weeks of U.S. involvement in the War. During this war, B-2s flew non-stop to Kosovo from their home base in Missouri and back. The B-2 was the first aircraft to deploy GPS satellite guided JDAM in combat use in Kosovo.
The aircraft has been used to drop bombs on Afghanistan in support of the ongoing War in Afghanistan. The B-2 flew one of its longest missions to date from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri to Afghanistan and back.
During the ongoing War in Iraq, B-2s have operated from Diego Garcia and an undisclosed "forward operating location." Other sorties in Iraq have launched from Whiteman AFB. This resulted in missions lasting over 30 hours and one mission of over 50 hours. B-2s have been used during 22 sorties from Diego Garcia as well as 27 sorties from Whiteman AFB and have released more than 1.5 million pounds of munitions.
The B-2's combat use preceded a U.S. Air Force declaration of "Full Operational Capability" in December 2003. The Pentagon's Operational Test and Evaluation 2003 Annual Report noted that the B-2's serviceability for Fiscal Year 2003 was still inadequate, mainly due to the maintainability of the B-2's Low Observable materials. The evaluation also noted that the Defensive Avionics suite also had shortcomings with pop-up threats. The B-2 has seen action in the War in Iraq, dropping 583 JDAM "Smart Bombs" in 2003.
All B-2s, nuclear-capable B-52s, and nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, will be shifted to the new nuclear-focused Global Strike Command to be set up by September 2009.
B-2s are operated exclusively by the United States Air Force active units. (less)