Tech$24 Billion Stealth Spectacle: U.S. Air Force mobilizes B-2 armada

$24 Billion Stealth Spectacle: U.S. Air Force mobilizes B‑2 armada

B-2 planes in flight
B-2 planes in flight
Images source: © Public domain

5:11 PM EDT, April 20, 2024

The American Air Force executed a remarkable exercise as part of the Spirit Vigilance maneuvers. A notable Elephant Walk was conducted, followed by a swift launch of 12 B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, which represent the majority of such aircraft that the Pentagon currently possesses.

Elephant Walk refers to the impressive process of launching many aircraft, which starts with them taxiing on the runway. The goal is to deploy as many aircraft as possible into the air quickly.

The origin of the Elephant Walk can be traced back to World War II, but it took on added importance during the Cold War era. During this period, it was employed to rapidly deploy entire squadrons into the air upon receiving a strike alarm on air bases.

This year's Elephant Walk featuring B-2 aircraft marked the largest revealed exercise of its kind, with more of this specific aircraft type involved than previous iterations.

The launching of 12 B-2 aircraft indicates that the major portion of the 18 such aircraft, which the Pentagon currently commands, was mobilized from Whiteman base.

Billions in the Air

The price tag for a single B-2 is around $2 billion, implying that aircraft worth $24 billion briefly took to the skies—an amount surpassing Israel's defense budget.

The B-2 stealth bomber, designed in a flying wing configuration, boasts an airframe shaped and coated with a unique material to minimize radar detection through reduced reflective surface area.

The B-2 measures 69 feet in length, has a wingspan of 171 feet, and weighs 167,551 pounds in a ready-to-fly state, including the same weight in fuel. It carries approximately 49,604 pounds of armaments exclusively in its internal bomb bays. The aircraft's range is around 6,835 miles.

B-2 Spirit airplanes during the "elephant walk"
B-2 Spirit airplanes during the "elephant walk"© Public domain, USAF

Successor of the B-2 Bomber

Despite the B-2 Spirit bomber being the most recent (first flown in 1989) in-service among American strategic bombers, including the B-52H and B-1B, it already has a successor.

The successor, the B-21 Raider, took to the skies for its first flight in November 2023. This aircraft is marginally smaller and has a cost reduction of about 60 percent. The B-21's affordability and accelerated development program are anticipated to enable the U.S. Air Force to acquire significantly more units compared to the B-2. The Air Force is planning to purchase at least 100 of these aircraft.

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