The combat-tested stealthy B-2 bomber turned 30 in recent years. This milestone has not gone unnoticed as the sleek-looking aircraft has become well known for decades of flying successful attack missions over Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan after its combat debut in Kosovo in 1999.
While the new B-21 Raider next-generation stealth bomber is preparing for its first flight and is expected to blast onto the scene in coming years in large numbers, the famous B-2 is not disappearing anytime soon.
The Air Force plans to phase in the B-21 to fly alongside an upgraded B-2 well into the coming years.
Upgrades Keep Cod War Era B-2 in the Sky
Upon initial thought, one might think a stealth bomber born in the Cold War era might not remain viable, effective, or relevant 30 years after taking to the sky. However, the Air Force has in recent years upgraded the B-2 such that it is now an almost entirely different plane.
Indeed, the external configuration is not likely to change. There may, however, be new innovations in the realm of radar-absorbent coating material or thermal management sufficient to vastly improve its stealth properties.
Upgrades to the B-2 bomber involve a wide-ranging sphere of massive performance enhancements that go back many years and have already proven successful. Regarding stealth or the ability to avert enemy air defenses, the Air Force has recently been integrating a new “air-defense-detecting” sensor technology called the Defensive Management System.
The advanced sensor, which is already being added to the B-2, helps pilot crews identify the location of enemy air defenses, therefore offering a critical ability to elude, avert, or fly away from potential ground attacks.
This is particularly relevant given recent advances in air-defense technology. Russian state-backed news reports claim the S-400 and S-500 air defense systems are able to track and destroy even stealthy aircraft. This may or may not be true.
However, modern Russian-built air defenses do reach longer ranges, operate on a broader range of frequencies, and benefit from breakthroughs in digital processing, networking, and more sensitive or precise ground radar. Given this, integrating the DMS is designed to enable the B-2 to remain effective in even the most modern, high-tech threat environments.
These kinds of sensing upgrades are also being supported by a new computer processor being built into the B-2 reported to be 1,000 times faster than existing onboard computing. On the weapons front, the interface, software, and computer engineering are likely being adjusted to fire a new sphere of cutting-edge and future weapons that includes the upgraded B-61 mod 12 nuclear bombs and possibly the nuclear-capable cruise missile called the Long Range Standoff Weapon.
The B-2 Surely Has Some ‘Spirit’
The B-2 has also in recent years been tested with an upgraded extended-range variant of the Joint-Air-to-Surface-Standoff-Missile, called JASSM-ER.
The Air Force and Northrop Grumman have also continued to improve bomb targeting precision, sensing, guidance, and data analysis through a cutting-edge crypto modernization and Radar Aided Targeting System (RATS).
The principle breakthrough for the B-2 is not only related to these weapons and technology, but the ability for them to work in coordination with one another using high-speed computing, man-machine interface with pilot input, and advanced software built on common sets of standards or IP protocol to enable interoperability.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19 FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
March 16, 2023 at 7:20 pm
Why do we need B2As errrrrr B21s?