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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Russia Knows Nothing Can Stop the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber

B-2 Bomber

In a world of great power competition, the U.S. Air Force has a weapon Russia and China can only dream of: a small fleet of B-2 Spirit stealth bombers. A former member of the U.S. Air Force explains why they are so revered: Developed as the “Advanced Technology Bomber” project, the B-2 Spirit was conceived during the Carter administration but did not fly until 1989 – and did not enter service until 1997. Designed to bypass Soviet air defenses and deliver either conventional or thermonuclear weapons, the B-2 was the world’s first stealth bomber – and to this day, remains the only stealth bomber ever produced.

The B-2 program has another notorious distinction: the bomber is the most expensive aircraft ever built. With 21 B-2 Spirits produced, the total program cost breaks down to $2.13 billion dollars per aircraft. So when a B-2 was destroyed, sliding off the runway at Andersen Air Force Base in 2008, the accident cost over a billion dollars, lost in an instant. The Andersen B-2 crash was the most expensive crash in aviation history.

The program’s sky-high costs were marketable during the Cold War, when the B-2 was first dreamt up. The US envisioned a B-2 fleet of 132 aircraft, all able to penetrate Soviet airspace. Yet, when the Soviet Union fell, the B-2, which had not yet entered service, was left without its primary target. Without the Soviet Union, a fleet of 132 stealth bombers seemed lavish.

President George H. W. Bush, a former pilot, known for his restraint, used his 1992 State of the Union address to confirm that the US would not be ordering over one hundred stealth bombers. Instead, only 20 aircraft would be ordered – less than 16 percent of the initial procurement projection. With the Soviet Union suddenly and unexpectedly relegated to the past, the American public – and their elected officials in Congress – were no longer comfortable with funding such an indulgent program. Indeed, the B-2 program was so stratospherically expensive that the bill became a controversy.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) declared in 1996 that the Spirit bombers would be “by far, the most costly bombers to operate on a per aircraft basis.” The GAO was correct: The B-2 would cost three times more than the B-1 Lancer – and four times more than the B-52 Stratofortress. Further exacerbating the B-2’s costs were the bomber’s finicky maintenance demands. Consider this: for every hour that the B-2 spent airborne, the bomber needed 119 hours of maintenance. The B-1 and the B-52, on the other hand, only need 60 and 53 hours respectively. The B-2 costs don’t end there; the stealth bomber also needs specialized hangars – big enough to house the flying wing’s 172-foot wingspan – and cool enough to preserve the Spirit’s heat-sensitive stealth “skin.” Every hour the B-2 flies costs taxpayers about $135,000 dollars – or, twice as much as either the B-1 or B-52.

The US Air Force had planned to operate the B-2 until 2058. That’s not gonna happen. Instead, when the B-21 Raider enters service in the next decade or so, B-1 and B-2 bombers will be retired; the USAF does not have the budget to simply add forthcoming B-21s to the existing fleet; rather, the B-21 will need to directly replace existing bombers. So, the B-2, with its $2.13 billion dollar price tag – and lack of primary targets – will be retired to make room for the new B-21 (which the B-2 seems to have heavily inspired).

While the B-2’s pending retirement makes sense fiscally, it will hurt for aviation aficionados. The B-2, with its distinctive flying wing shape, and murky Area 51 origins, is still futuristic and mysterious, three decades after making its debut.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon, and New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.



  1. Error403

    June 25, 2022 at 1:32 am

    B-2 ???

    Piece of crap. An attack on russia by B-2s would invite a retaliation by russia via a counterstrike with a rs-24 (SS-29) rocket at the B-2 airbase.

    Wham! No more base and no more B-2s. This goes to show a military strike at a peer rival is an invitation or recipe for disaster. Better to just stick to sanctions and boycotts and SWIFT lockout.

    • jack johnson

      June 25, 2022 at 11:59 am

      Better yet, throw in the towel and cut your best deal you can with Russia before your male population is eliminated. Not sure the Ukraine, the west or NATO gave much thought as to how this conflict was going to play out.

      I can’t see a single area where this is working out well for them. Countries are going to start worrying about their own self-preservation vs supporting this senseless war.

    • Misterx

      June 26, 2022 at 4:04 pm

      You stupid idiot,Debian army destroyed b2in Kosovo war in 1999!Idiot you know nothing.

  2. William Craddock

    June 25, 2022 at 9:31 am

    The article above fails to show the B-2 wartime use during the 1990’s era of the Clinton Administration, where the B-2, flying refueled long range round trip missions against forces in Bosnia pursuing ethnic cleansing against the Muslims in the Balkans, soon after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
    Pres. Clinton, like Pres. Obama who displayed similar fortitude in Operation Neptune Spear, using Stealth Blackhawk helicopters taking down Usama Bin Laden in 2012, while he was hiding out in nuclear armed Pakistan. Biden as Obama’s VP, then as now was fearful against performing successful direct action missions, which also gained us a treasure trove of terrorist Intel recovered from Bin Laden’s hideout. With Stealth Assets such as the B-2/F-35 easily capable of unidentifiably and clandestinely wiping out the Russians invading Ukraine within days of their initial incursion, Biden, along with JCS Chairman Gen. Milley on down, both display disgraceful leadership timidity, when they proclaim fear of “provoking Vladimir Putin”, as their publicized position reasonings for not actively intervening to save our long time NATO Ally from a brutal unprovoked invasion. P.S. Nearly 60% Americans polled also feel Biden is going too soft and easy on Russia’s criminal aggression as well.

    • Victor

      June 25, 2022 at 4:14 pm

      Bruv, are you really comparing the Balkans, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to Russia?

      Please, just don’t.

      None of the countries you mentioned has any form of sophistication as regards air defense systems. They are pops as compared to big dogs.

      The US is one, Russia is definitely another big dog.

  3. Victor

    June 25, 2022 at 4:11 pm

    B-2 maximum flight height – 50k feet.

    S 500 air defense system maximum weapons altitude – 200km (656k+, can target satellites in low orbits, and weapons launched from high orbits).

    Bruv, read, and think again.

  4. Serbian

    June 26, 2022 at 4:20 pm

    Hahaha a yet in Serbia, then also “miaterious and invisible” F117 was shoot down by home made rocket launch system , so please leave it alone those stealth BS

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