The B-2 is capable of participating in nuclear or conventional warfare either from its main operating base at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, or from a forward operating location outside the continental United States. Three overseas bases have been selected by the Air Force for forward deployment of the B-2: Royal Air Force Fairford in the United Kingdom, Andersen AFB, Guam, and Diego Garcia. Besides these, the Air Force was looking at one other forward operating location, a Middle East location. The exact location was one that the Air Force would not identify publicly, but which Gen. Michael Ryan, the Air Force chief of staff, said "we're looking at" for what he termed "other capabilities."
New mission requirements in FY2003 included supporting the Air Force's Global Strike Task Force by building B-2 aircraft hangars at Royal Air Force Fairford, United Kingdom, and B-2 aircraft parking pads at Diego Garcia. The Air Force decided it was unrealistic to deploy the B-2 without shelters, as planned, because some low-observable materials were not as durable as expected and require lengthy maintenance, some in an environmentally controlled shelter after each flight. In addition, B-2s must be kept in shelters because of their sensitivity to moisture, water, and other severe climatic conditions.
Air Force operational requirements for the B-2 intended for both the interim and fully capable B-2s to be capable of deploying to forward operating locations, without shelters, in all types of weather and climates. During operational testing of the interim configuration, low-observable materials took from 30 to 80 hours to repair and cure, and the processes require a shelter with a temperature and humidity controlled environment for proper curing. Testing indicated that B-2s were also sensitive to extreme climates, water, and humidity. Exposure to water or moisture can damage some of the low-observable enhancing surfaces on the aircraft. Therefore, if B-2s were to be deployed, some form of aircraft sheltering at a forward operating location is a requirement.
On 28 September 2001 the Pentagon awarded a $12 million contract to build four specially designed shelters to protect the aircraft under the B-2 Extra Large Shelter Program. This contract included four deployable, extra-large shelter systems, four sets of anchoring kits, 12 air-conditioners, four humidifiers, two extra-large shelter deployment kits, two environmental control system deployment kits, one humidifier deployment kit, two spares/tool kits and two erection towers. At the time, the total amount of funds had been obligated. This work was expected to be completed 30 weeks after receipt of order.
One shelter would be erected at Fairford and four would go to Diego Garcia. Five more shelters were needed, because Andersen already had hangars the B-2 could use. The shelters measure 125 feet wide, 250 feet long and 55 feet high, and can withstand winds of 110 mph and 40 pounds of snow per square foot. The portable hangars, which are basically aluminum trusses covered with two layers of vinyl-coated fabric, are designed to protect the billion-dollar B-2 stealth bombers from harsh weather and gale winds. The hangars can be taken apart for shipping by boat or plane, and provide more lighting, space and environmental controls than the existing permanent air force docks.
Initial plans focused on erecting temporary shelters on the Indian Ocean island for the aircraft, but it was later determined more permanent structures were needed to house the sophisticated planes. Britain gave its go-ahead to start construction in July 2002. Officials said the work would take some time.
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