B-2 passes first real-world test

The $2 billion B-2 stealth bomber, criticized last year for deficiencies in its on-board command and control systems, flew its first actual combat missions this week, successfully bombing targets in Yugoslavia despite poor weather.

Flying in support of NATO bombing missions in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, two B-2s from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., relied on satellite data to deliver 32 precision-guided bombs to various Serbian air defense sites and other ground targets.

Speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said "the aircraft performed according to its capabilities," but that it was too early to provide specific details on the bomb damage assessment.

Likewise, yesterday Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon told reporters that the B-2 bomber performed well and was able to deliver its bombs despite concerns about the weather in the area during the first two days of operations. "The advantage of the B-2 bomber is that it is an all-weather plane," Bacon said. "Because it is guided by satellite it is independent of weather, and therefore it was successful in dropping its ordnance."

The B-2's success in carrying out its first live combat bombing mission comes after the General Accounting Office issued a report last year outlining problems with the bomber's automated ground-mission planning system, which is required to plan and launch strikes rapidly [FCW July 6,1998].

The report also identified problems with the aircraft's defensive systems, which are designed to provide pilots with information on enemy threats, and concluded that the problems were serious enough to "limit the aircraft's ability to fully meet" Air Force objectives.

However, in an interview last month with FCW, Bacon discounted the problems with the stealth bomber's computer systems. "If there were concerns, we would not send them," he said.

The boomerang-like bomber was first developed in 1981 by Northrop Grumman's B-2 Division to be the Air Force's stealth bomber capable of delivering conventional or nuclear bombs across great distances in a short period of time. In 1986 each plane was estimated to cost $438 million. Today the total development and procurement costs for each bomber is estimated at more than $2.1 billion, according to GAO.

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