It's a Bat, It's a Plane -- It's the B-2
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 8, 1997 It looks like something from a 1950s sci-fi movie, like an enormous bat or flying wedge, but it is actually the world's most advanced long-range bomber. It's the B-2 Spirit, and the V-shaped craft is now on active duty with the U.S. Air Force.
The 509th Bomb Wing, with 13 B-2s, became operational this month at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. Another eight B-2s are slated for delivery by 2000, DoD officials said.
"This is the most up-to-date, heavy bomber flying in the world today," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. "It has stealth capability. It's designed to evade enemy defenses and to zero in on its targets."
The B-2, which costs about $2 billion each including research and development, is designed to increase U.S. air dominance, Bacon said. "This is a plane that has both a conventional and a nuclear mission and will be able to give us full-spectrum dominance in any type of heavy bombing that may be required today or in the future."
"The B-2's combination of low observability, large payload capacity, bombing accuracy and long range gives America a unique, unprecedented military capability," said Air Force Gen. Richard E. Hawley, Air Combat Command commander. "The B-2, in concert with our total bomber force and our land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, sends a powerful message to would-be aggressors."
Each B-2 can carry up to 16 Global Positioning System-aided munitions or joint direct attack munitions. These 2,000-pound bombs can strike within 20 feet of a target, DoD officials said. During operational testing, three B-2s destroyed 16 targets using 16 of the GPS-aided bombs from an altitude above 40,000 feet, officials said.
In the past, the Air Force measured how many aircraft would be needed to destroy a single target, said Gen. Ronald Fogleman, Air Force chief of staff. Now the Air Force can look at how many targets it can destroy with a single aircraft, he said.
"One of the things we learned when we used the F-117 fighters in Desert Storm," Bacon said, "was that when you have a stealthy aircraft that can evade air defenses, you don't need nearly as many of them as you did conventional planes. Therefore, the planners felt that we were able to get by with a smaller fleet than we would have had to 40 years ago. We only have 50 F-117s, and that fleet performed brilliantly during the Gulf War."
The B-2 takes its place with six other intercontinental bombers that have served U.S. defenses -- the B-36, B-47, B-52, B-58, FB-111 and B-1. At present, nearly 100 B-1B Lancers and about 100 B-52 Stratofortresses are in operation, Bacon said. The nearly 40-year-old B-52s were used several months ago to launch cruise missiles against targets in Iraq, he said.
DoD officials said today's diverse bomber fleet gives the nation the capability to respond to crises anywhere in the world with tremendous lethality at minimal risk to American lives.