The B2 Spirit is primarily used by the United States Air Force and is often recognized as Stealth Bomber. This multi-role bomber – which seats two – is capable of carrying not only conventional weapons, but nuclear munitions as well. The B2 has the capacity to drop an estimated total of up to 80 – 500 lb. GPS-guided bombs or 16 – 2,400 lb. nuclear bombs. The airframe on the Stealth was designed to make it capable of both deflecting and absorbing radar signals, which meant too little was reflected back to the radar unit, making the B2 Spirit vulnerable only to attacks by those weapons and systems that did not depend on radar. This unique capability of the Stealth allowed the aircraft to penetrate the most advanced enemy defense systems, making it difficult to detect, track and engage this aircraft.
At the start of the Advanced Technology Bomber project, overall performance of the aircraft was the major reason the Carter administration gave for cancelling the B-1 Lancer program. Later on, under President Reagan, delays in the introduction of the B2 led to the B-1 program being re-instated in addition to the B-2 program.
Though designed and built by Northrop Grumman, some assistance was received from Boeing. The total cost of each individual aircraft reached a staggering average of $737 million in 1997, with an overall averaged procurement cost of $929 million for each aircraft. In the end, the program cost resulted in an average of $2.1 billion for each aircraft, making this a controversial project not only with U.S. Congress but Joint Chiefs of Staff as well.
The initial flight of the B-2 Spirit was in July of 1989, but it did not appear in combat until 1999, when it was used to drop conventional bombs on Serbia during the Kosovo War. The original intent for the plane, however, was to be utilized as a nuclear bomber. This uniquely designed B-2 was also used in the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and in 2011 during the Libyan uprising.
As recent as 2011, the Pentagon is said to be assessing an extremely different unmanned version of the stealth bomber. This “mini-B2” is planned to be operating and in service by the year 2020.