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What $16 Billion in B-2 Bombers on One Runway Looks Like

Warning to North Korea – B-2 Spirits Lined Up in Elephant Walk: The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit was designed so that it couldn’t be easily tracked by radar, but on November 7, the United States Air Force made sure that the long-range strategic stealth bombers were quite visible as eight were lined up at Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB), Missouri, at the culmination of the recent Spirit Vigilance 22 training exercise.

The aircraft from the 509th and the 131st Bomb Wings took part in an “elephant walk” before taking part in a series of training and readiness drills.

The aircraft were lined up in close formation on the runway before taking off in short intervals to showcase the availability of the aircraft and as a demonstration of power. 

Given that just twenty B-2s are in service, this would represent approximately 40 percent of the total Spirit fleet. With eight bombers on the runway at roughly $2 Billion a piece, that is approximately $16 Billion in stealth bombers in one location. That is something no nation on earth can do at the moment. 

As reported by TheDrive, this would be the first time the flying-wing bombers had been involved in a mass launch of such scale – even as such drills have become increasingly common with the Air Force in recent years.

“This is a reminder that the B-2 Spirit bomber is the visible leg of nuclear triad,” said Colonel Geoffrey Steeves, 509th Operations Group commander. “Simply put, the B-2 is the world’s most strategic aircraft. It is the only aircraft on the planet that combines stealth, payload, and long-range strike. We are charged with delivering the nation’s most powerful weapons for our most important missions.”

Spirit Vigilance 

The 509th Bomb Wing’s Public Affairs Office said Spirit Vigilance is one of a series of routine training and readiness exercises held by bomb wings across the Air Force G1obal Strike Command, while the Vigilance series are regularly planned, multi-annual exercises conducted to continuously evaluate and enhance U.S. deterrence capabilities.

Capt. Richard Collier, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron director of operations, further explained that Spirit Vigilance is designed to test aircrews and Airmen under difficult conditions.

“We are displaying a capability here to rapidly generate and deploy [the B-2] under greater scrutiny and time restraints than the normal day-to-day flying mission,” he said. “Here we demonstrate to our near-peer adversaries, as well as to ourselves, how well we can perform.”

The displays of power projection could be directed at any of America’s adversaries, but this recent elephant walk was likely meant as a strong message to Pyongyang, as it followed recent North Korean missile launches. 

The fact that it involved nuclear-capable B-2s was certainly noted.

Hans Kristensen (@nukestrat), director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American scientists, tweeted, “Earlier this month, 509 Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB conducted exercise Spirit Vigilance, a nuke exercise practicing quick take-off of at least 8 of wing’s 20 B-2 bombers… Normally about 12 of 20 B-2s are considered ‘deployed’ under New START treaty.

Able to Strike North Korea or Just About Anywhere Else

The Northrop Grumman B-2 is one of the three strategic bombers operated by the United States Air Force – the others being the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-1B Lancer. The multi-role bomber is capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions.

It is a key component of the nation’s long-range strike arsenal, and one of the most survivable aircraft in the world.

A dramatic leap forward in technology, the bomber represents a major milestone in the U.S. bomber modernization program. The Spirit is powered by four General Electric F118 turbojet engines, and the B-2 is capable of carrying about 35 tons of conventional or nuclear bombs and cruise missiles in two internal holds. Its stealth capability makes it particularly fit for deep penetration into enemy territory to carry out an offensive strike.

The B-2 has a crew of two pilots, a pilot in the left seat and a mission commander in the right, compared to the B-1B’s crew of four and the B-52’s crew of five.

Able to fly 6,000 nautical miles without refueling, and travel at high subsonic speeds, the B-2 remains the only heavy-hitting aircraft that could strike any part of the world within hours. 

A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.


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