America’s venerable B-2 Spirit may be thirty years old, but it still offers the United States a unique combat capability not found in any other nation.
The stealthy platform can penetrate deep into contested airspace, delivering massive amounts of ordnance on unsuspecting targets while avoiding detection and — just as importantly — weapons lock from air defense systems. In a potential war with a near-peer adversary like China, it would likely be up to the B-2 (or to the forthcoming B-21) to fly long-range bombing missions against hypersonic anti-ship systems stationed along China’s coast. (This in turn would clear the way for America’s carriers to close to within 500 miles or so of the Chinese shores where they could begin launching sorties of F-35s to engage air defenses and Chinese fighters.)
The ability to fly for thousands of miles, while avoiding detection, and then engage ground targets in contested airspace is something that the United States may be taking for granted, as stealth platforms have been a staple of America’s Air Force since the 1970s, but in the rapidly developing militaries of Russia and China, the stealth revolution has just begun.
Nevertheless, while America may still have the lead in stealth technology, the fact that these nations are closing the gap means that America will soon have to consider the possibility of stealth bombers flying missions into our own contested air space in the years to come.