For a cool $737 million “flyaway cost”, Northrop Grumman builds the US military’s B-2 Spirit aka the Stealth Bomber. It was once billed as the replacement for the famous Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, which began service in 1955 and is expected to remain in service until at least 2040. The Stealth Bomber was originally intended to avoid the threat of new generations of interceptors and surface to air missiles.
But the military has already committed to developing a B-2 successor. Russia, China, the UK, France and a handful of other countries are building their own super-advanced planes in hopes of ruling the skies in the 21st century.
In 1974, DARPA initiated the search for a plane designed with a radar cross-section that would allow it to remain invisible to radar. After years of design and development and in one of the most secretive projects in military history, a Ford automobile assembly plant in Pico Rivera, California, was used to build the B-2. All operations were conducted under high levels of secrecy with polygraph tests regularly given to employees.
The Stealth Bomber was designed to conduct penetration missions into enemy territory, carry nuclear weapons and fitted with the most advanced avionics, flight control systems and armaments. The unique design of the stealth bomber is its lack of a fuselage and tail. This allows a low observable profile and excellent aerodynamic efficiency. Since the 1980’s, 21 B-2s have been built and the program has cost more than $50 billion.
New Advanced Bomber Under Development
Advanced airplane builders must stay one step ahead of the game. New multi-static radar is beginning to detect stealth aircraft. According to reports, the US Air Force has budgeted $4 billion over a five-year time frame to develop a successor to the B-2 Stealth Bomber.
Industry watchers believe the new aircraft will have a similar design but will have the following improved characteristics:
- Custom coatings-radar absorbing materials are being developed to make sure the new plane flies undetected. There are many materials under development and weight and cost are the most important criteria in determining what will be adopted.
- The two vents on the B-2 stealth bomber are very large and create drag. In the new version, it is believed there are four smaller vents.
- Smart Decoys – Raytheon has developed a “Miniature Air Launched Decoy”, which create a bomber-like signature to confuse radar systems.
- The new plane is likely to have extra retractable wings that can be deployed when carrying heavier payloads ,such as weapons. The wings will retract inside the aircraft when it flies within range of air defense systems.
- The current B-2 stealth bomber has two weapons bays. The new aircraft will have a single weapons bay capable of carrying larger conventional missiles and nuclear weapons as well as 30,000 pound bunker busting bombs. The single bay also reduces the cost of the aircraft.