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    B-2 Stealth Bomber Retired After Costly 2022 Mishap, Air Force Fleet Down to 19

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    Red Flag, Nellis AFB, NV – Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit AV-5 82-1070 Spirit of Ohio – 393d Bomb Squadron ‘Tigers’” by TDelCoro is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    In a stark demonstration of the economic realities facing the maintenance of advanced military technology, the U.S. Air Force has confirmed it will retire one of its B-2 Spirit stealth bombers.

    Stealth bomber in flight
    Stealth bomber in flight

    The aircraft, damaged in a December 2022 incident at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, was deemed too costly to repair.

    Airplane B-2 Stealth Bomber flying over 2016 Rose Parade New Years Day in Pasadena, California
    Airplane B-2 Stealth Bomber flying over 2016 Rose Parade New Years Day in Pasadena, California

    This decision reduces the fleet from 20 to 19 operational aircraft, each with a historical price tag of approximately $2 billion.

    Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Stealth Bomber, AV-5 – 82-1070 ‘Spirit of Ohio’ at KBAD Barksdale Defenders of Liberty Airshow” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The incident, which led to this retirement, occurred on December 10, 2022, when the bomber experienced an in-flight emergency, landed, ran off the runway, and caught fire.

    delta wings, plane, stealth bomber
    Photo by WikiImages on Pixabay

    The grounding of the B-2 fleet for a “safety pause” of six months followed as the Air Force scrutinized the mishap. The B-2, a key element of America’s nuclear deterrent, remained available for combat during this period, despite the stand-down.

    Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Stealth Bomber, AV-4 – 82-1069 ‘Spirit of Indiana’ at KBAD Barksdale Defenders of Liberty Airshow” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The economic assessment to forego repairs comes as the B-2 fleet is already set for a phase-out by the end of the decade.

    Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Stealth Bomber, AV-17, ‘Spirit of Florida’ – 92-0700” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The defense budget request for fiscal year 2025 does not include further procurement for the B-2, with procurement and R&D only estimated to be about $250 million through the future years defense plan.

    Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Stealth Bomber, AV-4 – 82-1069 ‘Spirit of Indiana’ at KBAD Barksdale Defenders of Liberty Airshow” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Nevertheless, a Northrop Grumman sustainment contract valued at up to $7 billion, running through 2029, indicates continued support until the fleet is replaced by the new B-21 Raider.

    Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Stealth Bomber, AV-19 – 93-1086 ‘Spirit of Kitty Hawk’ at KBAD Barksdale Defenders of Liberty Airshow” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The damaged B-2 “is being divested in FY 2025 due to a ground accident/damage presumed to be uneconomical to repair,” according to the Pentagon’s force structure report.

    Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Stealth Bomber, AV-4 – 82-1069 ‘Spirit of Indiana’ at KBAD Barksdale Defenders of Liberty Airshow” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The same report outlines the Air Force’s broader plans to cut 932 aircraft to invest in new technologies, projecting savings over $18 billion from fiscal years 2025 to 2029.

    A B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is refueled in-flight by a KC-135” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    This is not the first time the Air Force has had to grapple with the costly maintenance of its B-2 fleet. In 2010, a B-2 crashed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, resulting in a $100 million repair bill and a four-year service hiatus.

    Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Stealth Bomber, AV-10 – 88-0331 ‘Spirit of South Carolina’ at KBAD Barksdale Defenders of Liberty Airshow” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    However, with the B-21 Raider on the horizon, the decision to retire the B-2 suggests a shift in priorities and the weighing of repair costs against operational service life.

    Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Stealth Bomber, AV-5 – 82-1070 ‘Spirit of Ohio’ at KBAD Barksdale Defenders of Liberty Airshow” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The B-21 Raider, expected to enter service in the mid-2020s, is currently undergoing flight testing with the Air Force confirming that “good progress is being made.” As the new face of stealth bomber technology, the B-21 is set to redefine the strategic air capabilities of the U.S. Air Force.

    Northrop (later Northrop Grumman) B-2 Spirit, also known as the ‘Stealth Bomber’” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The future of the damaged B-2 remains uncertain, with possibilities ranging from its use as a maintenance trainer to being displayed in a museum.

    Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Stealth Bomber, AV-10 – 88-0331 ‘Spirit of South Carolina’ at KBAD Barksdale Defenders of Liberty Airshow” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    However, the decision underscores the high stakes and costs inherent in sustaining a fleet of sophisticated stealth aircraft and the strategic choices that define the future of U.S. aerial combat capabilities.

    Relevant articles:
    Air Force Will Retire, Not Repair, Damaged B, Air & Space Forces Magazine
    B-2 that caught fire in 2022 won’t be fixed, Air Force confirms, Defense One
    Damaged B-2 Won’t Be Repaired, Fleet To Shrink To 19 Jets (Updated), The War Zone
    The U.S. Air Force Is Divesting A Damaged B-2A Spirit Stealth Bomber, The Aviationist

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