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The B-2 Spirit was developed during the Cold ωλɾ to attack Soviet strategic targets

The black, bat-like B-2A Spirit is the silver bullet of US policy, reserved for use against targets of the highest priority. The B-2 is the costliest warplane ever built (around $900 million per copy), is difficult to maintain and is prone to trouble with the coating that provides much of its stealth. The B-2 Spirit was developed as a low observable strategic bomber for the Cold ωλɾ mission of attacking Soviet strategic targets.

Composites are extensively used to provide a radar-absorbent honeycomb structure; the bomber has a minimal IR signature, does not contrail and uses its shielded APQ-181 radar only momentarily to identify a target just before attacking. The glass cockpit is usually flown by a crew of two. The aircraft has a quadruplex-redundant digital fly-by-wire system and highly advanced, classified electronic ωλɾʄλɾɛ system.

Six prototypes were funded and the first was rolled out on 22 November 1988. The B-2’s first flight took place on 17 July 1991 the US Air Force (USAF) implemented a set of treatments to rectify a shortfall in the B-2A’s stealth capabilities.

The USAF had originally wanted 132 aircraft, but funding restrictions have seen the fleet completed with just 21 aircraft. In 2008 one aircraft crashed leaving a current number of 20. The last of these was delivered on 14 July 2000 and is the AV-1 prototype upgraded to Block 30 standard. The first operational B-2A was delivered to the 509th Bomb Wing on 17 December 1993 and full initial operating capability came in April 1997.

Having progressed through the Block 10 and 20 standards of stealth, systems and ωɛλρσɳs capability, the entire B-2A fleet will be brought to Block 30 standard with full ωɛλρσɳs and stealth capabilities. The B-2A made its combat debut over Kosovo in 1999, employing the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and other ωɛλρσɳs to great effect. Although the USAF’s B-2 force is garrisoned at Whiteman Air Force base, Missouri, the service has ambitious plans to operate the aircraft temporarily from forward bases like Guam and Diego Garcia.

Originally the B-2 was intended to carry sixteen AGM-129 ACM air-launched cruise missile. It was the first stealthy cruise missile. It had a range of around 3 000 km and was fitted with a variable yield (5-150 kT) nuclear warhead. This missile was developed out of concern that a stealthy bomber needs a stealthy missile in order to be effective against the most advanced Soviet air defense systems. This missile was adopted by the USAF in 1990, even before the B-2 bomber. In 1992 it was declared fully operational. In 2008, the USAF formally announced the decision to retire and destroy all AGM-129 missiles, which was to be completed by 2013.

Currently the B-2 bomber can carry sixteen AGM-158A JASSM and improved AGM-158B JASSM-ER air-launched cruise missiles. These stealthy missile were specially designed to penetrate advanced air defense systems, such as the Russian S-300 and its improved derivatives. The baseline AGM-158A has a range of 370 km. It was adopted in around 2005. The improved AGM-158B has a range of 930 km and was adopted in 2014. So the B-2 can launch its missiles at standoff range, without entering hostile air defense zone. Both of these missiles have conventional warheads.

Other ωɛλρσɳs carried by the B-2 include thermonuclear free-fall bombs, penetration bombs, guided bombs, as well as AGM-154C JSOW precision glide bombs.

For many years cockpit as well as instrument panels of the B-2 bomber were kept in secrecy. Images of the cockpit became publicly available only in 2019.


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