Why Does the B2 Stealth Bomber Cost $2 Billion?

Why Does the B2 Stealth Bomber Cost $2 Billion?

With the current US president announcing plans to increase the US defense budget this year in order to rebuild the depleted military of the United States, we may need to take stock of what expenditure has already been spent by the good ole Us of A. The current increase of billions of dollars will take the US even further ahead of the rest of the world in terms of outright military spending. And yes, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2015 US defense spending outstripped that of China, Russia, the UK, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and India combined. While none of us can claim that US defense spending has been anything less than excessive, it has been perhaps an important part of overall world peacekeeping. So just what has been the biggest single expenditure on US military hardware? What has been the most dramatic dollar per man expenditure? Well, with each American tax paying citizen contributing over 30 dollars on the production of it, we attempt to answer that question today, on this episode of the Infographics Show, why does the B2 Bomber cost $2 Billion?

The B-2 Spirit, also known as the Stealth Bomber, is an American heavy penetration strategic bomber featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses. This flying wing houses a crew of two, and can deploy both conventional and thermonuclear weapons. Development for this ATB, or Advanced Technology Bomber, began during the Carter administration, and development continued through the Reagan administration, with program costs continually rising. Originally designed for use in the cold war, the B-2 became active in later military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The first versions cost 737 million dollars, rising to 929 million dollars as retrofitting and adjustments were made. Ultimately, the cost per aircraft weighed in at 2.1 billion dollars per aircraft as the B-2 was perfected in 1997. So the Defense Authorization Act and Congress authorized 20 B-2’s for $44.65 Billion, or 2.2 Billion each. That’s equivalent to $36 from each individual taxpayer for each plane, or $720 per taxpayer for the entire program. That’s a lot of dough for the average hard-working American citizen. The B-2 planes themselves cost 8 times their weight in gold to buy and operate. Yes, these are some seriously expensive aircraft. The project has been controversial from the get go, owing to the astronomical cost. The B2s number just 20 now in service, with the United States air force planning to operate the B-2 until 2032. An impressive weapon of war, the B-2 is capable of all-altitude attack missions up to 50,000 feet, with a range of more than 6,000 miles on internal fuel, and over 10,000 nautical miles with one mid-air refueling. It has served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.    

Although nobody is really at liberty to say why the planes cost so much, one theory is that the B2 is just such a royal pain in the behind to maintain due to a flaw in the surface coating material. The radar-reflecting material used on the B-2 is highly hydrophilic, meaning it takes on and absorbs water readily and as the plane flies. Air friction during flight causes the surface of the B-2 to heat up, meaning the water that’s absorbed into the stealth material simply boils away, blistering the material. As the surface material erodes, the B-2 is less stealth-like. After every flight, these blisters have to be repaired, meaning that not only does the B-2 cost a ton upfront, but the maintenance bill is also substantial. This theory itself though has a flaw – could the B-2 really fly so fast that the surface material heats up to the boiling point? Whether this theory is true or not, experts all agree that the paint used to coat the B-2 costs a huge sum, and the general overhauling, which must take place once every seven years, costs 60 million per aircraft.     

But did the B-2 really cost 2.1 billion per aircraft? Some have argued that due to creative accountancy and other sleight of hand tricks, the cost of the aircraft has been vastly overestimated and that the fighter only costs a mere $500 million to develop and manufacture. That’s about twice the cost of a run of the mill 747 passenger airliner. When you factor in the cost of training the crew, the cost of the weapons, expendables, and fuel, all these factors pump up the price of the aircraft way beyond the cost of simply making an aircraft. But maybe the fact that there were so few B-2s built is the very reason they were so expensive. Let’s look at car manufactures to get a clearer picture of what happens here. Imagine if General Motors spent 20 years to build a revolutionary line of 20 cars. These are state of the art cars of which the world has never seen the likes before. In order to build these cars, they have to train new mechanics to have new skills to use new materials to build the new cars that will be subject to a design system that requires constant revision at every step of the design and production process. Designs systems have to not only be drawn up, they have to be implemented with precision. This is what happened with the B-2 – the best engineers were not only hired, they were trained by other high earning engineers, to build an aircraft that was a unique cutting-edge piece of technology that was considered essential during development and has proved useful in missions since the late 1990s. Cutting edge technology does not just appear, it has to be painfully developed over years of hard graft, mistakes, workmanship, redesign, and eventually the product is brought to market, hopefully with the required design features.      

The problem is other aircrafts buzz around the aerospace and the B-2 is not the only flyboy in town. The F-22 Raptor is almost invisible to radars, and is the most advanced and expensive production fighter after the B-2, with the cost of a single fighter estimated at around $339 million, a snip compared to the cost of the B-2 Stealth fighter. So perhaps with the last flights planned for the B-2 in 2032, a successor is on the radar.     

Whatever the cost, the B-2 aircraft has been useful since its introduction in battle in 1999 and still currently it is the only aircraft carrying a massive ordnance penetrator, so if the US needs to destroy a rogue nuclear facility buried deep underground, this is the aircraft to do it with.

So, do you think  the B2 Bomber is worth the massive cost? Let us know your thoughts in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called US F-35 vs Russian Su-35 Fighter Jet. Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

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