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The United States Needs The B-2 Bomber

The United States Needs The B-2 Bomber


CSC 1992


SUBJECT AREA National Military Strategy













Title: The United States Needs the B-2 Bomber


Author: Major Kenneth P. Hasenbein, United States Air Force


Thesis: Because the United States is withdrawing its forces from around

the world, it needs to maintain a modem strategic bomber force capable of

global reach, to deter aggression against U.S interests, and to successfully

wage war should conflict occur. The B-2 will be a vital component of that



Background: The strategic bomber has been a crucial asset in our nations

conflicts since World War II. Besides being employed in our conventional

wars, bombers have also served as a leg of the strategic nuclear Triad.

Deterrence at all levels of conflict remains a component of the President's

National Security Strategy, and an important role for strategic bombers.

The world environment has changed dramatically in the last few years, and

with the end of the Cold War, the need for a bomber fleet has been

questioned. However, potential threats to the United States remain, and the

President has reaffirmed his commitment to the B-2, although in smaller

numbers than originally planned. The reduction of the B-2 fleet to 20

aircraft has forced the Air Force to revise proposed missions for the

aircraft. Because of the reduction in our forces around the world, it may be

necessary to strike a blow against a threat to our national interests or

against aggression before other force arrive on the scene. The B-2, with its

unique combination of stealth, range, payload, and accuracy, will be able to

strike "high value" targets in heavily defended enemy territory, which

neither the B-52 nor the B-I can accomplish. The issue of cost has

dominated the public debate involving the B-2 bomber. Emphasis on cost

alone has distracted attention from other important issues regarding the

need for the aircraft, its capabilities, or technological benefits derived

from the program. The B-2 is vital in today's strategic environment, and

will be a crucial asset in supporting the rational security strategy in the



Recommendation: The United States Air Force must continue to actively

support the acquisition of the B-2, and make procurement of all 20 aircraft

a high priority.






Thesis: Because the United States is withdrawing its forces from around

the world, it needs to maintain a modem strategic bomber force capable of

global reach, to deter aggression against U.S. interests, and to successfully

wage war should conflict occur. The B-2 will be a vital component of that



I. Role of Strategic Bombers

A. Historical

B. Present


II. Strategic Bombers in the future

A. Nuclear and Conventional Deterrence role

B. Global reach in a conflict

C. Standoff vs. Penetrating capabilities


III. Post Cold War Environment

A. Fall of the Soviet Union

B. Reduced military budgets

C. Potential future threats


IV. The B-2 Fills the Need

A. Size of the fleet

B. Need for stealth

C. B-2 capabilities

D. Cost as an issue


V. Alternatives to the B-2

A. No new bomber

B. Updating the B-1 or B-52

C. B-2 compared to the B-1 and B-52


VI. The U.S. Needs the B-2

A. Role in support of National Strategy

B. Public image defined by cost

C. Redefined Mission




The United States is currently withdrawing many of its forces from

around the world. In order to support the President's National Security

Strategy, the U.S. needs to maintain a modern strategic bomber force

capable of global reach, to deter aggression against U.S. interests, and to

successfully wage war should conflict occur. The B-2 bomber will be a

vital component of that force.


The B-2 bomber has been one of the most controversial aircraft ever built.

The existence of the aircraft was revealed in 1988 after years of secrecy.

Congress then subjected the bomber to intense scrutiny and criticized it for

its high cost. Also, the world environment has changed dramatically in the

last few years, and with the end of the "Cold War," the need for this aircraft

has been questioned. As this paper is written1 the debate continues to rage

on regarding the fate of the B-2 program. The President recently cut the

proposed B-2 procurement to 20 aircraft. This reduction has altered the

debate on the B-2. The Air Force has had to revise proposed missions for

the aircraft, and Defense Department leaders have had to address whether or

not such a limited fleet will be useful.

We will examine some of the issues involving the B-2 bomber, including

the role of strategic bombers, the capabilities of the B-2, and why the B-2

will be necessary in the strategic environment of the future.




Historically, long-range bombers have been used to strike targets of

strategic significance deep within an enemy's homeland. The Allies used

strategic bombing to devastating effect in World War II. Edward Jablonski,

in his book "Airpower, An Illustrated History of Air Power in the Second

World War," discussed the effects of U.S. strategic daylight precision

bombing as seen by German leaders. He said, "What the German

professionals--Minister of Arms and War Production Albert Speer and

Milch-- feared most was American bombing by day, aimed at specific war

industries." (7:47) In addition to targeting German industries, the U.S.

employed strategic bombers in massive raids against Japan. Many of Japan's

major industrial cities were demolished by American B-29 bombers

carrying incendiaries. (7:204)


During U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict, bombers were also used,

but results were less conclusive. Political restrictions on targets and

bombing halts gave North Vietnam badly needed respites from our attacks,

and diluted their effect. Nevertheless, the U.S. employed bombers on a

massive scale:


As in Korea, grand-strategic bombers were used for strategic

missions. By February 1969 some 105 B-52s from the Strategic

Air Command were flying about 1,800 sorties a month from Guam

(2,000 miles from the battlefields), Okinawa, and Thailand. (6:150)


Besides its employment in actual combat operations, the long-range

bomber has been a crucial asset in nuclear deterrence. Bombers have been

one of the legs of the strategic Triad (which also includes land-bled and

submarine-launched ballistic missiles). In fact, since the end of World

War II, the Air Force has emphasized aircraft optimized for the nuclear

deterrence role in its bomber design and development programs. (6:133)

The role of strategic bomber aircraft has continually evolved since World

War II. In each of our nation's conventional conflicts, the bomber has been

sought after for new missions that would take advantage of its long range

and heavy payload capabilities. With the advent of air refueling and

precision-guided munitions (PGM) or "smart bombs," the potential missions

for strategic bombers have expanded even further.

Historically the Air Force has treated tactical and strategic aircraft as

distinct entities, with relatively fixed roles. Although strategic bombers

have been used in tactical roles in certain situations in the past, today the

distinctions between tactical and strategic aircraft and missions have

blurred dramatically. In our recent conflict with Iraq the Air Force used the

B-52, a long-range strategic bomber, to strike the Iraqi Republican Guards,

arguably a "tactical" target. Conversely, the U.S. used the F-117 stealth

fighter, a so-called tactical aircraft, for precision strikes against targets

deep inside Iraq, Such targets generally would be considered "strategic"

targets. The next aircraft in the evolution of the bomber must encompass

features of both of these types of aircraft, and must be capable of striking

strategic as well as tactical targets.




The U.S. Air Force is about to undergo a major reorganization. Specifically the Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command will merge into Air Combat Command. This merger is evidence that Air Force leaders recognize

that the future roles of aircraft will not be so narrowly defined as in the

past. The Air Force will employ a particular type of aircraft based on what

weapon system is best suited to strike a specific target, in an integrated

air effort with bombers and fighters working together.


Deterrence, in the classic sense of preventing nuclear war, remains one of

the elements of our national security strategy. In the future, nuclear

deterrence will still be a necessary role for strategic bombers as part of

the United States' strategic Triad. (18:25) However, nuclear threats may

not come from superpower adversaries. Because of the dissolution of the

monolithic Soviet Union, which was the predominant threat, such threats

will most probably come from smaller regional powers that have acquired

nuclear weapons.

The U.S. must also deter regional conflicts below the nuclear level. In a

recent editorial John T. Correll, Editor-in-Chief of Air Force Magazine,

summed up the argument for a deterrence strategy at all levels of hostility:


Unless the United States wants to spend the neet twenty years

fighting wars large and small, we had better hang onto

deterrence and fund it above the shoestring level. The changes

sweeping the world have made it possible to achieve deterrence

across the spectrum of conflict with less military power, but

that has already been factored into the new US defense strategy

and a much-reduced defense budget. (3:6)


If the U.S. military establishment is to adequately support the President's strategy, our long-range bombers must be capable of global reach. With the reduction in our military forces worldwide, it may be necessary to strike a blow against a threat to our interests or against aggression before other forces can travel to the scene. Long-range bomber aircraft based in the

United States must provide that capability. However according to a Rand

paper, this task would be difficult with our current bomber fleet:


The proliferation of modem air defenses throughout the world

has greatly restricted the ability of current bombers to overfly

modem defenses before they have been effectively suppressed.

Consequently, -1 and B-52H aircraft could not, with any

confidence, be used unsupported to deliver gravity munitions in

the early hours or days of a conflict or to participate in the

suppression of critical air defense assets. (4:10)


If current bombers could not penetrate heavily defended enemy territory,

possibly cruise missiles launched from aircraft such as the B-52 could

accomplish initial strikes against critical targets. However, because of the

need to avoid collateral damage, e.g., civilian casualties, the bombers would

need to strike those critical targets very accurately. Also, some mobile

targets would be hard to find ahead of time. Therefore, cruise missiles may

not be able to do the whole job:


Equipping such aircraft with stand-off cruise missiles would

permit them to engage many of these targets early in the

campaign; however, mission planners would need detailed and

accurate data on the location of enemy air defenses and on the

nature of each fixed target before cruise missiles could be

effectively employed. It is not clear that such data would be

reliably available in many potential short-warning scenarios.



Cruise missiles will be necessary, but there is still a requirement for an

aircraft with the ability to get through enemy defenses and strike `high

value' targets precisely. Neither the B-52 nor the B-1 possess that

capability. Additionally, even cruise missile carriers would neeel escort to

protect them while they fly to within launching range for their cruise





The Post-Cold War budgetary and political environments have been hostile

to the survival of the B-2. The fall of the Soviet Union and its satellites

has called into question the necessity of maintaining nuclear or even

conventional bomber forces. U.S. military leaders have had a difficult time

identifying and articulating any significant threats to U.S. national security.

As a consequence, military budgets have begun to fall, and weapon systems

have been cut, including the B-2 program.

The current, approved defense cutback plan was drawn up two years ago by

the Defense Department to deal with the reduction of the communist threat.

It was based on the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, the reuniting of

Germany, and the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe. The

plan, called the "Base Force," included troop cuts of 25 percent, a 15 percent

cut in ships, and 30 percent cuts in aircraft, from U.S. forces. (9:34)

However, with the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union itself, and

without other clearly defined threats, further cuts in the military are

probable in the near future. Representative Les Aspin, Chairman of the

House Armed Services Committee, suggested this possibility in an

interview. He said that after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact a 25 percent

reduction sounded about right, but without a Soviet Union, the base force

structure is out of date. (8:A10)

The fall of the Soviet Union has provided the primary justification for

budget reductions. However, though the overall threat from the former

Soviet Union has diminished, the remnants of its powerful military forces

are still a potential threat to the security of the United States. Russia and

the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), comprising 11 of the former

Soviet Republics, still maintain a strong nuclear capability. Robert Gates,

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), expressed concern over

the unstable situation in Russia. He said, "There are so many challenges to

the leadership and the movement toward economic and political reform in

Russia that l think it would be premature to take our sights off a country

that still possesses 30,000 nuclear weapons." (5:A8). Additionally the CIS,

including Russia and Ukraine1 cannot agree on the disposition of the nuclear

weapons they have, or who should control them.


Besides the CIS, there are other potential adversaries throughout the

world. Iran is conducting an arms buildup, including development of a

nuclear capability. CIA Director Robert Gates stated, "Iran has embarked on

an across-the-board effort to develop its military and defense industries."

(13:29) Gates said Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction as well

as conventional arms, and is looking to Asian sources for nuclear and

chemical warfare technology. (13:29)

North Korea is also actively working on its own nuclear weapons. The

United States has confirmed extensive construction at a nuclear complex in

Yongbyon, 50 miles north of Pyongyang. (12:30) The North Koreans admit to

having a nuclear program, but claim it is for peaceful purposes only.

According to one estimate, however, North Korea will produce enough

plutonium by 1994 to start building nuclear weapons at a rate of two to

seven weapons per year. (14:118)


Nuclear capabilities are not the only possible threats to the United States. The spread of Islamic fundamentalism and state-sponsored terrorism could

also pose serious threats to U.S. national interests in the coming decades.




The B-2 will be a vital component of our strategic bomber force in the

uncertain strategic environment of the future. We will discuss the impact

of a reduced force of B2s, and the revised missions for a small fleet. We

will examine the unique combination of stealth, range, and payload

capabilities of the B-2, and why the aircraft is necessary to support our

national strategy. Finally, we will examine the issue of the cost of this

next-generation bomber.

President Bush has confirmed his commitment to the B-2. According to

the President's National Security Strategy of the United States, the B-2 will

serve as both a nuclear and conventional deterrent. The role of the B-2 is

specifically addressed:


The B-2 strategic bomber must be deployed so that the

flexibility traditionally provided by the bomber force will be

available in the future. The B-2 will also firmly plant our

aerospace industry in a new era of low-observable technology

and the bomber itself will have unique value across the spectrum

of conflict. (18:25)


Though the President has articulated a need for the B-2, he supports a

very small B-2 fleet. The Air Force originally proposed buying 132 B-2s,

which was subsequently cut to 7S aircraft. Then in his State of the Union

address in January 1992, President Bush terminated the B-2 program at 20

aircraft. Currently, Congress has funded only 15 of the proposed 20 B-2s.


In anticipation of a fleet of only 20 aircraft, the Air Force has redefined the mission for the B-2. In addition to deterrence, the aircraft will be used for critical conventional operations. Discussing this new emphasis for the B-2, a recent article in Aviation Week & Space Technology said the



In a revised mission statement, the B-2's new assignment will

be to `hold at risk and, if necessary, attack an enemy's war-

making potential, especially...time critical targets.' Such targets

include facilities to produce, support and deliver nuclear,

chemical and biological weapons. (1:33)


Secretary of the Air Force Donald Rice discussed the size of the B-2 force


and its utility in an interview:


I think, with 16 operational aircraft, two squadrons of eight

each, we will be able to have the B-2 perform a whole range of

missions that we had originally envisioned. Obviously, we won't

have the numbers we required for some of the larger-scale

scenarios that one could envision. So we will have to devote the

B-2s to those most critical, most time-sensitive targets where

the defenses are the toughest. And we'll use them, much as we

did with the F-1 17 in the Persian Gulf, for the toughest jobs.



In another statement released by Secretary Rice, he said, "Fielding the B-2,

even in smaller numbers, reaffirms our earlier decisions to invest in stealth

and provide a multidimensional, multimission bomber force for the future."

(17:17). Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak, also supported the 20

airplane fleet of B-2s:


...A force of 20 B-2s, which will probably work its way down to

something like 16 that are combat-coded and available for

operational use, is a heck of a capability...This is a force that can

get anywhere in the world in a few hours. (17:17)


To accomplish its critical missions, the B-2 must be able to get past

heavy enemy defenses. The B-2 will do this through the "stealth"

characteristics inherent in the design of the aircraft. "Stealth" involves

reducing the radar, heat and other "signatures" of the aircraft, making it

less visible to the enemy. Stealth allows the aircraft to penetrate enemy

territory and deliver its weapons with a reduced probability that it will be

detected, engaged by the enemy, and shot down. Stealth technology already

has been successfully battle tested in the Persian Gulf war, with the F-1 17.

One example of the proven value of stealth in war was reported in "Airman

Magazine." The article described an effort to destroy an Iraqi nuclear

reactor facility south of Baghdad:


In a strike package of 60 attack, fighter, Wild Weasel and

electronic warfare aircraft, plus 15 aerial tankers, failed in

their attempt to take out the facility.

Yet eight F-1 17's carrying laser-guided bombs and supported by

only two tankers destroyed three of four reactors in one raid.



Stealth, or "low-observable" technology is the key advantage of the B-2.

Overall, the B-2 has done well in demonstrating its low-observable

characteristics to date. Even though the B-2 is not "invisible" to enemy

radar in every single frequency of the radar spectrum, it is a quantum leap

over earlier generations of bomber aircraft, and would be very difficult to

detect. An Air Force publication on B-2 survivability said the following:


The B-2 is obviously not invisible. But what is needed for

successful air defense against the B-2 is detection, tracking, and

kill capabilities at relatively long operating ranges (e.g., 25 to

200 miles depending on the style of defense). At such ranges,

the various signals available from the B-2 are generally very

weak, and easily lost in the noisy background or obscured by

ground clutter, weather, clouds, and other phenomena. (16:9)


Thus, B-2s could be employed without the need for other aircraft to escort

them or to suppress enemy defenses for them. The B-2, with its unique

combination of stealth, range, payload, and PGM capabilities, will allow it

to take on missions of a strategic and tactical nature in a conventional

conflict that previously only combination of aircraft could accomplish.

Although the B-2 could be employed without escort, this idea is not meant

to suggest that the B-2 will "win" any conflict alone. The B-2 will operate

as only one asset in a joint effort during any sustained conflict. Prior to

the introduction of other forces, the B-2 could serve as a leading strike

last $14.5 billion, we would have had the last 55 B-2s of a 75 aircraft fleet.

Although the 75 aircraft fleet is a moot issue, the unit fly-away cost for

the last 60 aircraft would have been $338 million. (15:39) The point is that

we have seen figures ranging from $811 million to $338 million per

aircraft, all for the same final number of aircraft. Too much emphasis on

the cost issue has diverted attention from other relevant issues such as the

need for the aircraft, its capabilities, and other benefits derived from the


Although the aircraft is expensive, we are getting more than just some

number of aircraft for the total program cost. There are numerous

technological spin-offs from the research and development associated with

the program that will have uses in other areas. The report "Why" the B-2

discussed some of the new technologies developed for the B-2, and their



The most obvious of these is stealth technology, which almost

certainly will be built into all future military aircraft to one

degree or another. Others include fabrication of large composite

structures, techniques for testing and quality control of

composite structures, and electronic product definition and

design (19:15)




One alternative to the B-2 would be to eliminate the program and

not build any new strategic bomber. As we have seen, however, there are still

potential threats to our national security. In addition, our national strategy

calls for the B-2, and current aircraft cannot fulfill the role. Long lead

time would be a problem should our national leaders then decide to build

another new bomber. If the B-2 program was canceled, another new bomber

asset in the opening days of a conflict. The B-2 will be able to take out

certain targets early in hostilities before air superiority has been achieved.

This contribution would enhance our overall chances for success. Of course

the B-2 could carry out single raids, such as the one against Libya, as well.

One of the most significant-aspects of the B-2 debate is the cost of the

aircraft. However, the cost figures of the aircraft can be deceiving, since

there are several ways of computing cost. For example, the typical way of

reporting the cost of the B-2 has been to divide the total program cost by

the number of aircraft to be purchased. For a 75 aircraft program, the total

cost would have been $60.8 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 91 dollars. (15:35)

That would be an approximate cost of $811 million per aircraft. However,

that cost includes the research and development for the aircraft, the setup

of the production line and tooling, and construction of facilities to test the

B-2. (15:36)

A more relevant cost figure however, is the unit fly-away cost of the B-2,

which is the actual production cost of each aircraft excluding research and

development costs. Obviously, these costs will also vary depending on how

many B-2s are finally procured. Had we stuck with a 75 aircraft program,

the average fly-away cost for each aircraft would have been $437 million

each. (15:36) This represents only a little over half of the $811 million

figure. If the Air Force only receives the 15 aircraft that are currently

funded, the fly-away cost will be $939 million each. (15:39) This cost

takes into account the $6.0 billion in costs associated with shutting down

the program. According to published figures, the savings achieved by

cutting the B-2 program at the proposed 20 aircraft will be $600 million in

Fiscal 1993 and a total of $14.5 billion through Fiscal 1997. (2:20) For that

could not be fielded until well into the next century, because of the time

required for the acquisition process.


Updating the B-52 or the B-1 is another alternative. However, the B-52

has been operational since the 1 950s, has no stealth capability, and will

continue to grow more expensive to maintain as it gets older. The B-1 lacks

the stealth characteristics also, as well as effective electronic defenses

that would allow it to penetrate air defenses in the coming decades.

Additionally, neither the B-1 nor B-52 have the combined range and weapons

capacity of the B-2.

In a conventional scenario, we will compare aircraft in a high altitude

flight profile. The B-2 combines an unrefueled range of 6700 nautical

miles, with a payload of 80 MK-82 bombs, totaling 40,000 pounds. In a

similar comparison, the B-52H has a range of only 5800 nautical miles with

a payload of 51 MK-82 bombs, for a total of 25,500 pounds. The B-1 can

carry 56 bombs, 28,000 pounds, for a 4950 nautical mile range. (19:10) A

high-low-high profile includes a 1000 nautical mile low level portion of the

mission. If we compare aircraft in a high-low-high profile, we get similar

results. Overall, the B-2 has 55 percent better fuel efficiency than either

the B-52H or the B-1 on the high-low-high profile. (19:10) The B-2 will be

able to strike targets at greater distances from its home base, with more

payload than either the B-52 or the B-1, using less tanker support.

Fewer lives will be put at risk by using the B-2 for a given mission,

compared to the B-52 or B-1. The B-2 has only a two-man crew, versus four

crewmembers for the B-1 and six for the B-52 (five without the gunner).

Also, if B-52s or the B-1 s were to overfly heavily defended enemy territory,

they would require support to suppress enemy defenses that could put

additional aircrews at risk.




The United States is reducing its force presence around the world. In

order to support the President's National Security Strategy, the U.S. needs a

strategic bomber force capable of deterring aggression against U.S.

interests anywhere in the world, and successfully striking an adversary

should conflict occur. As we have seen, the B-2 is a unique aircraft with

capabilities that will allow it to perform many missions, and will be a vital

component of that bomber force.

The need for the B-2 aircraft has been questioned because of a rapidly

changing world environment, and because of its high cost. Unfortunately,

the public image of the B-2 has been defined by its cost without regard to

the value obtained for that cost, almost to the exclusion of all other

factors. In this period of shrinking military budgets and election year

politics, the controversy surrounding the B-2 program continues and the

program could change again. The President's announcement during his State

of the Union address ended the B-2 program at 20 aircraft, and forced the

military to take another look at the viability of a small B-2 fleet. As we

have seen, though proposed missions for the aircraft have been revised, the

B-2 bomber is vital in today's strategic environment and will be a crucial

asset in supporting our national security strategy in the future.




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(January 1992).


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Defense News, 9 March 1992.


11. Rhodes, Phil. "Giving Us the Edge." Airman 35 (September 1991).


12. Richardson, Michael. "Pyongyang's Nuclear Threat." Asia-Pacific Defence

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March 1992.


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