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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Russia Is Freaked: F-35 and Stealth B-2 Bombers Are Training Together

F-35 stealth fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

F-35 and B-2 Bomber Practice Missions Together – The U.S. Air Force is trying to see whether the F-35 Lightning II and the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber can successfully operate together in simulated contested skies during a multi-aircraft training exercise that includes night flying. The Air Force is currently conducting Exercise Agile Tiger at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri for the bomber wing there to better integrate the B-2 Spirit with the F-35 and other aircraft.

Six F-35A Lightning II warplanes from Hill Air Force Base, Utah have flown into Whiteman and are taking part in the drills. The Air Force believes it is time to practice a war scenario in which the F-35 will support bombers in combat.

What Is in Store During the Training Exercise?

“The integration of the B-2, B-1, and B-52 with fifth-generation fighter aircraft and other support units allows America to maintain credible strategic deterrence in a rapidly changing environment. This collaboration advances joint warfighter lethality while promoting resilience, innovation, competitiveness, and process improvement – all talents required to address today’s complex challenges,” according to a public affairs announcement from Whiteman AFB.

Stand-off Missiles Are Becoming More Prevalent

One likely aspect of the training will be the simulated use of stand-off missiles fired from the B-2. The war in Ukraine has shown the world that stand-off missiles fired from airplanes represent the current operating environment of modern conflict. The Russians are usually staying out of range of Ukrainian air defenses and firing air-to-ground missiles, even hypersonic weapons, at targets in Ukraine.

The United States is likely to incorporate these stand-off tactics into their use of bombers such as the B-2. This might include the F-35 maintaining an escort role that can help clear the airspace for the bombers to operate at maximum efficiency when delivering their ordnance to targets. Exercise Agile Tiger could be a proving ground for these tactics.

In a March exercise, two American B-2 bombers were escorted by three Norwegian F-35 fighter jets over Iceland and the North Atlantic. So, it appears the Air Force wants to explore how a B-2 and F-35 pairing will work out.

The B-2 can deliver conventional and nuclear munitions. It has a range of 6,000 nautical miles from their home at Whiteman AFB and 10,000 nautical miles with an aerial re-fueling. It can fly 680-miles an hour with a maximum altitude of 50,000-feet.

The B-2 Can Be Equipped with Stand-off Missiles

The B-2 can carry 40,000 pounds of weapons. The Air Force estimates that “two B-2s armed with precision weaponry can do the role of 75-conventional aircraft.” It currently supports the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon. For other standoff attacks, the Spirit can launch the AGM-158 Joint Air Surface Standoff Missile. The B-2 will carry the Long Range Standoff nuclear cruise missile when it enters service.

First Air War Over Kosovo

The stealth flying-wing bomber received “Initial Operating Capability” in 1997. It soon participated in the NATO bombing campaign over Kosovo in 1999 to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. B-2s based at Whiteman flew fifty 30-hour sorties to the former Yugoslavia. They penetrated contested skies and delivered a third of the ordnance released in the first two months of the air campaign.

The B-2 and F-35 pairing is one that can be practiced around the globe as more and more F-35s are being sold to U.S. allies. While the B-2 ordinarily drops bombs, it could someday have the capability to launch a nuclear-tipped cruise missile and this stand-off attack is something the Air Force wants to rehearse for future conflict in the Indo-Pacific and perhaps the European theater.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.