On the heels of announcements that the A-10 Thunderbolt-II Warthog may be phased out soon due to budget constraints, the USAF is also placing a high priority on getting a new long-range stealth bomber. The project is being characterized as a key modernization priority, but at a time when the nation is footing the bill for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the KC-46A aerial refueling tanker, along with retiring what many think of as the best close air support aircraft since the prop jobs of the WW2 era, why don’t we just build more B-2 Spirit bombers instead of launching a project to produce 90 or so entirely new planes?
The Air Force now has twenty B-2 bombers in operation, and it has announced that the plane is to be a part of the US arsenal through 2058. What possible new features can be built into a new bomber that aren’t already a part of the B-2 design, or added to it?
From the WikiPedia page for the B-2 Spirit:
The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, also known as the Stealth Bomber, is an American strategic bomber, featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is able to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons. The bomber has a crew of two and can drop up to eighty 500 lb (230 kg)-class JDAM GPS-guided bombs, or sixteen 2,400 lb (1,100 kg) B83 nuclear bombs. The B-2 is the only aircraft that can carry large air-to-surface standoff weapons in a stealth configuration.
The B-2 is capable of all-altitude attack missions up to 50,000 feet (15,000 m), with a range of more than 6,000 nautical miles (11,000 km) unrefuelled and over 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km) with one refueling. Though originally designed primarily as a nuclear bomber, it was first used in combat to drop conventional bombs …
A number of upgrade packages have been applied to the B-2. In July 2008, the B-2′s onboard computing architecture was extensively redesigned, it now incorporates a new integrated processing unit (IPU) that communicates with systems throughout the aircraft via a newly installed fibre optic network; a new version of the operational flight program software was also developed, with legacy code converted from the JOVIAL programming language used beforehand to standard C. Updates were also made to the weapon control systems to enable strikes upon non-static targets, such as moving ground vehicles.
On 12/29/2008, Air Force officials awarded a $468 million contract to Northrop Grumman to modernize the B-2 fleet’s radars. <snip> In 2010, it was made public that the Air Force Research Laboratory had developed a new material to be used on the part of the wing trailing edge subject to engine exhaust, replacing existing material that quickly degraded.
In 2013 the USAF contracted for the Defensive Management System Modernization program to replace the antenna system and other electronics to increase the B-2′s frequency awareness.
When sequestration is putting so much pressure on the funding for all the military, this initiative does not seem prudent to me, and the Air Force should be pressed to explain why it would not be more cost effective to produce more B-2s. For more, check out THIS article at Defense News.