US Air Force B-2 Bomber Fleet Shrinks To 19 Jets

US Air Force B-2 Bomber Fleet Shrinks To 19 Jets
The Spirit of Georgia B-2 bomber after coming to a stop in a grassy area east of the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Sept. 14, 2021. Credits: US Air Force

In a strategic move outlined in the Department of Defense 2025 Budget Request, the U.S. Air Force has opted to retire a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber rather than repair it, citing exorbitant costs and logistical complexities.

This decision will diminish the operational fleet from 20 to 19, marking a significant development in the Air Force’s arsenal. The revelation, however, raises questions about the fate of the divested aircraft and underscores the evolving dynamics within the military’s aviation landscape.

Only two B-2s are known to have been damaged recently. The War Zone states that the aircraft to be divested is likely the one known to have had an accident at Whiteman Air Force Base around 18 months ago.

“It seems very likely that the B-2 to be divested is the one that made an emergency landing and suffered a fire at Whiteman Air Force Base [the main B-2 operating base] in Missouri on December 10, 2022. At the time of writing, the cause of that mishap does not look to have been publicly disclosed.” – The War Zone

Although details regarding the mishap remain undisclosed, it is known that the incident resulted in an emergency landing and subsequent fire, effectively blocking the base’s sole runway for over a week. The aftermath of this event reverberated through the B-2 fleet, grounding operations for a prolonged six-month period. The decision to retire the damaged bomber reflects the Air Force’s strategic calculus, balancing operational requirements with fiscal prudence.

The move to divest the B-2 comes amidst the Air Force’s transition towards the B-21 Raider stealth bomber, slated to replace both the B-2 and the supersonic swing-wing B-1 bombers. With only 20 B-2s remaining in service, including the damaged aircraft, the Air Force is navigating a delicate transition phase, optimizing its resources to accommodate next-generation capabilities. The B-21 Raider represents a paradigm shift in stealth technology and strategic deterrence, aligning with the military’s modernization objectives.

The decision to retire the B-2 underscores the intricate interplay between operational exigencies, budgetary constraints, and technological advancements. As the Air Force prepares to bid farewell to one of its iconic assets, attention turns to the fate of the divested aircraft. Whether it will be consigned to storage or dismantled remains uncertain, leaving lingering questions about its legacy and potential future applications. Additionally, the absence of detailed information regarding the accident and repair costs leaves room for speculation and further inquiry.

The divestment of the B-2 serves as a poignant reminder of the military’s evolving priorities and the relentless pursuit of strategic superiority. Northrop Grumman, the manufacturer of these formidable bombers, holds a storied legacy intertwined with the nation’s defense apparatus. From the inception of the B-2 program at Plant 42 in the late 1980s to the present day, the aerospace giant has been instrumental in shaping the future of air power.

In the annals of military history, the B-2 Spirit stands as a testament to ingenuity, innovation, and unwavering resolve. While its retirement marks the end of an era, it also heralds the dawn of a new chapter in aerial warfare. As the Air Force embarks on the next frontier of stealth technology with the B-21 Raider, the legacy of the B-2 endures, immortalized in the annals of aviation history.

The B-2 successor the new B-21 Raider stealth bomber is currently undergoing flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The U.S. Air Force has been tight-lipped about the status of the secretive aircraft since the first flight.

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