A Stealthy Successor

The B-2 Spirit, better known as the “Stealth Bomber,” is perhaps the single most advanced aircraft in the world. Now the U.S. Air Force is looking towards the future of this amazing plane. According to Popular Mechanics, the Air Force is planning a new Stealth Bomber, one that will have even more astounding capabilities.

Several improvements to the B-2’s capabilities have been proposed. One idea is to reduce the number of specialized components used in the new plane’s construction. This would help reduce maintenance costs, as well as mechanic frustration. Drop tanks have also been proposed that would increase the bomber’s range without the need for in-flight refueling. They would be jettisoned before entering the combat zone, and in-flight refueling would be used on the mission’s return leg. Currently, the B-2 uses in-flight refueling on both legs of a mission. It could also operate in both manned and unmanned configurations, allowing air commanders to tailor the aircraft to the specific needs and risks of the mission. Lastly, a new engine design will provide something the B-2 sorely lacks: speed. The B-2 relies entirely on stealth for protection, so its engines are buried in the wing, lowering the aircraft’s radar and thermal signature at the cost of higher speeds. Utilizing a dual-mode engine, the new bomber will have the ability to travel at low, stealthier speeds, but it will also be able to rapidly escape a combat zone if necessary.

Regardless of its design, a bomber’s primary task is to neutralize enemy targets. While this mission hasn’t changed in 100 years, the weapons of war have definitely evolved. The new bomber’s payload will reflect this evolution, carrying guided and unguided munitions, as well as more exotic weaponry — weapons such as directed energy beams (read “lasers”), advanced decoys, and even computer viruses.

The new bomber is expected to enter service around 2020.