The Pentagon is proceeding with a $2 billion, 10-year effort to modernize the Air Force fleet of 20 B-2 stealth bombers, as reported by Rick Montgomery of The Kansas City Star. The B-2s will be upgraded with digital equipment to replace analogue, new antennas, better communications systems and enhanced pilot displays in what will be the biggest and most complex update of the B-2 since they were developed in the 1990s.
The B-2 is the only aircraft able of carrying the biggest bomb in the U.S. arsenal— the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) super-bunker buster— which is capable of plunging through 60 feet of reinforced concrete and detonating 200 feet underground.
The aircrafts— which also have the ability to fly unescorted into hostile airspace and blow up targets without having to first take out air defenses— cost $3 billion apiece in today’s dollar. Their flights cost around $130,000 an hour, which is almost double that of any other military aeroplane.
The relatively cheap upgrade comes at a time when the military is implementing $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade and the Air Force just began a new $55 billion program to create a new version of the B-2.
The typical B-2 has accumulated fewer than 5,000 flying hours despite being involved in every combat action since NATO’s 1999 bombing of Serbia in the Kosovo War.
In March 2011 the B-2s were the first U.S. aircraft into action in the UN mandated Libyan no-fly zone as three B-2s dropped 40 bombs on a Libyan airfield.
The planes can fly non-stop from their permanent home at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to the Middle East and back (sometimes with the support of aerial refueling).
The stealth, ability to carry MOPs and long-range capabilities of B-2s would be particularly useful in a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities as Iran is believed to have significantly enhanced their air defenses and radar systems in recent years.
If Israel chose to strike Iran (without U.S. backing) they would probably use about 100 F-15 attack bombers, each armed with a single laser-guided 5,000 pound GBU-28 bunker buster bomb, and F-16s as escorts.
But the planes would have to fly over 1,000 miles (one-way), refuel in the air, fight off air defenses in Syria (if they take that route) as well as in Iran, and attack at least four underground sites simultaneously with no guarantee that the bombs would reach the underground facilities.
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