Here’s how the legendary B-2 bomber’s stealth actually works

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Air Force crew chiefs inspect on a B-2 Spirit bomber at Whiteman Air Force Base, July 12, 2012.

  • Only 21 B-2s were ever built, and they reportedly have a stealth profile similar to that of a large bird.
  • Because it’s so hard to spot, it can be a first-wave attacker, clearing air defenses and opening paths for less stealthy aircraft.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The B-2 Spirit is one of the most clandestine and rare planes in the world.

Only 21 were ever built, and they reportedly have a stealth profile similar to that of a large bird despite their 170-foot wingspan. And they’re invisible to many infrared seekers, despite four large engines.

Here’s how engineers made a massive plane with large engines nearly invisible to systems designed to detect threats exactly like the B-2.

The B-2’s stealth profile is the result of extensive computer testing that wasn’t possible before its design. While the F-117 and B-1 were stealth aircraft, they were designed by nerds with slide rules and minimal computer modeling because the technology and the computers necessary simply didn’t exist.

But when it was time to design the B-2, the all-powerful nerds had super computers and leveraged them to create a model that had no flat surfaces with which to reflect radar directly back to the sensor. While a machine with no flat surfaces is harder to manufacture, the increase in stealth was deemed worthy of extra costs.

If the B-2 were flying directly toward the radar, most of the waves would actually be reflected 90 degrees away from the receiver, giving the radar operators next to nothing to work with.

B 2 Spirit
A B-2 takes off at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, January 28, 2014.

But of course, the flying wing would lose most of its stealth if the engines were mounted outside of its high-tech form. So the engines were mounted inside with special openings for intake and exhaust that, again, would not reflect radar waves back to the dish.

That exhaust opens its own can of worms. After all, aircraft can be tracked by their infrared signatures, if only from relatively close ranges. So, the B-2 needed tech that would let it diffuse or mask its infrared emissions at ranges as short as possible.

It has a few (mostly classified) systems to help with this. The exact shape of the exhaust helps a lot, but it also cools its exhaust and mixes it with the outside air to create a final exhaust that is at nearly the same temperature as the air flowing into the intake.

This greatly frustrates pursuing missiles and fighters, but obviously still leaves it vulnerable if someone spots the plane and talks fighters into the vicinity to hunt it.

Except the B-2 has another trick up its sleeve that makes even that less likely. It’s actually extremely quiet, so much so that people at sporting events with B-2 flyovers have reported being able to speak to one another as the plane flies past.

B-2

Anyone who has worked with most other jets knows that you can typically hear them before you see them, often by a matter of hundreds of feet. It’s the sound that lets you know to look for the plane, but the B-2’s tiny acoustic signature means that most observers on the ground won’t know there’s anything in the sky to look for.

Combined, this makes the B-2 a plane with little radar observability, that’s too quiet for most people on the ground to notice it flying nearby, and it gives off little heat, frustrating missiles and fighters sent to down it.

All of this still requires good pilots and planning. Determined defenders could use low-frequency radar waves and skilled fighters to hunt down a B-2 following a too-populated or well-defended route. But the last element of B-2 stealth comes from good intelligence, allowing pilots and planners to send the bombers in through relatively undefended routes or through routes the B-2 can defeat.

Because that’s a big part of the B-2’s mission. It’s not supposed to act as the primary bomber in most circumstances. It’s a first-wave attacker, clearing the air defenses on the ground and opening “alleys” for less stealthy aircraft.

Ideally, they get a picture of the air defenses they will attack from reconnaissance aircraft like the RC-135 and are then able to dismantle them piece by piece.

B 2 spirit
A B-2 takes off from Nellis Air Force Base, June 1, 2017.

But the B-2 can and has been sent against other targets, including bunkers in Iraq housing command and control elements during the invasion of that country. This is particularly useful when planners need to eliminate a target too early in the timeline to dismantle the air network first.

After all, if an enemy commander shows himself at a rally in the capital during an air campaign, you aren’t going to wait for the B-2s to finish opening the air corridors, you’re just going to send in B-2s to the final target (or you send B-1s if the B-2s can’t get there in time). You can get the radars later.

And that’s what’s so great about the B-2. While the plane costs more dollars per hour of flight than many others and carries fewer bombs than planes like the B-52 and B-1, it can hit targets that few other platforms can, largely because of its amazing stealth.

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The US command overseeing the nukes sent out a confusing and unintelligible tweet – here’s 11 times the military has screwed up on social media

An armor crewmen performs maintenance on a M1 Abrams tank during a platoon combined arms live fire exercise
An armor crewmen performs maintenance on a M1 Abrams tank during a platoon combined arms live fire exercise

  • The military has codified the rules for managing these official accounts. But sometimes these social-media pros flub it.
  • The screw-ups range from the Pentagon’s threat to bomb millenials converging near Area 51 to a “KnowYourMil” post about military systems that got it wrong.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Every day, scores of US military commands reach millions with posts aimed to inform and inspire: videos of valor, motivational photos, and, yes, puppy pics.

The military has codified the rules for managing these official accounts. But sometimes these social-media pros – even those at the four-star command responsible for the US’s nuclear weapons – fail miserably.

Here’s a rundown of some of the military’s most embarrassing, troubling, and dumb social-media mistakes in recent years.

“;l;;gmlxzssaw”

Minuteman III
Test of an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California

US Strategic Command, which oversees the US nuclear arsenal, sent out an unintelligible tweet on March 28, 2021 that went viral before it was deleted.

The post simply said: “;l;;gmlxzssaw.”

In a follow-on tweet, STRATCOM wrote: “”Apologizes for any confusion. Please disregard this post.”

The blunder received lots of humorous responses on social media, including a retired US Army lieutenant general.

 

‘A string of explicit tweets’

A sign of Fort Bragg is seen in Fayetteville, North Carolina September 26, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A sign of Fort Bragg is seen in Fayetteville, North Carolina

An “administrator” used Fort Bragg’s official Twitter account to send explicit sexual messages to an OnlyFans creator.

The Army installation initially claimed the account was hacked before deleting not just the tweets but its entire Twitter account. The base later acknowledged that the tweets were sent by one of their own.

Read More: US Army base says it’s sorry for claiming its Twitter account was hacked after an ‘administrator’ sent sexual messages at an OnlyFans creator

“Know what else has CV that isn’t #COVID19?”

An F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet, 48th Fighter Squadron, conducts a show of force while a team of U.S. Air Force Special Tactics operators, 352nd Special Operations Wing, board a CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotator aircraft, 7th Special Operations Squadron, for exfiltration during exercise Valiant Liberty at Muckleburgh, Norfolk, U.K., March 12, 2020
An F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet, 48th Fighter Squadron, conducts a show of force while a team of U.S. Air Force Special Tactics operators, 352nd Special Operations Wing, board a CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotator aircraft, 7th Special Operations Squadron, for exfiltration during exercise Valiant Liberty at Muckleburgh, Norfolk, U.K., March 12, 2020

Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) deleted a March 25, 2020 tweet making light of the coronavirus.

The tweet, which featured a picture of a CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, read: “Know what else has CV that isn’t #COVID19? #CV22uesday!”

The tweet was deemed to be in poor taste given the devastation the virus had caused. An AFSOC spokesman told Military Times that “we recognize it was in poor taste and have taken it down and apologize to anyone offended.” He added that the command will “review how this happened and act accordingly.”

Questions about COVID-19?

Screenshot of an Army social media post on its COVID-19 response
Screenshot of an Army social media post on its COVID-19 response

The Army put out a post on March 21, 2020 as part of an Army COVID-19 question and answer series that was considered racist and offensive. “Why did the man eat a bat?” the post asked. The answer, which was accompanied by a picture of a man shrugging, was “it wasn’t because he was thirsty.”

The Instagram post appears to have been referencing early reports that the coronavirus outbreak originated from the consumption of bats in China, which have fueled insensitive comments and jokes.

“This is simply unacceptable. We do not know how #COVID19 first infected humans but racism has no place in our Armed Forces,” Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth wrote on Twitter in response.

The social media manager responsible for the post, which, in addition to offensive content, also included inaccurate coronavirus information, was fired.

#KnowYourMil

M109A6 Paladins of the Utah Army National Guard are staged for movement from the port in Agadir, Morocco, to training areas where they will be used as part of African Lion 20, the largest exercise in Africa
M109A6 Paladins of the Utah Army National Guard are staged for movement from the port in Agadir, Morocco, to training areas where they will be used as part of African Lion 20, the largest exercise in Africa

On March 6, 2020 the Defense Department flubbed a #KnowYourMil moment, when it tweeted out an image of Utah National Guard M109 Paladins but wrote: “Ready to roll out the big guns! The tanks of the @UTNationalGuard are lined up and ready to participated in #AfricaLion.”

Paladins are tracked and have large cannons, but they are not tanks. The Utah National Guard responded to the tweet, writing, “Guys … the M109 Paladin is a 155mm turreted self-propelled howitzer.”

Remembering the Battle of the Bulge with a picture of a Nazi that massacred US troops

battle of the bulge us infantry foxhole
US infantrymen of the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, First U.S. Army, crouch in a snow-filled ditch, taking shelter from a German artillery barrage during the Battle of Heartbreak Crossroads in the Krinkelter woods on 14 December 1944.

In a move that drew significant criticism, the official Facebook pages of the Army 10th Mountain Division, the 18th Airborne Corps, and the Department of Defense all shared the picture of a Nazi responsible for the murder of more than 84 American prisoners of war in Dec. 16, 2019 posts commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, a fierce WWII battle.

The posts were later deleted. The Army said that it “regrets” that the image was included in the post that was shared on social media.

Read More: The Army and the Pentagon commemorated the Battle of the Bulge with a large photo of a Nazi who murdered US prisoners in that fight

#KnowYourMil

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A Stryker armored fighting vehicle participates in a Nov. 8 training at Fort Irwin, Calif.

On November 20, 2019, the Department of Defense’s official Twitter account shared this stunning image of an armored vehicle firing at a training exercise with the tag, #KnowYourMil.

The only problem — they named the wrong armored vehicle.

That’s a Stryker armored vehicle firing its 105mm gun, not a Paladin self-propelled howitzer, as the DoD tweet identified it. One easy way to tell them apart is that the Paladin is a tracked vehicle like a tank. Strykers have wheels.

‘The last thing #Millennials will see if they attempt the #area51 raid today’

A U.S. Air Force 509th Bomb Wing B-2 Spirit approaches a 351st Aerial Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during the Bomber Task Force training exercise over England, Aug. 29, 2019.
A U.S. Air Force 509th Bomb Wing B-2 Spirit approaches a 351st Aerial Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during the Bomber Task Force training exercise over England, Aug. 29, 2019.

On Sept. 20, 2019, the Pentagon’s Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) tweeted out a warning to millennials planning to attend the “Storm Area 51” event that day, suggesting it was going to bomb them.

“The last thing #Millennials will see if they attempt the #area51 raid today,” the tweet read. The accompanying image was a B-2 Spirit bomber, a highly-capable stealth aircraft built to slip past enemy defenses and devastate targets with nuclear and conventional munitions.

The tweet prompted some backlash online, and the next day, DVIDS deleted the offending tweet and sent out a new one explaining that “last night, a DVIDSHUB employee posted a tweet that in NO WAY supports the stance of the Department of Defense.”

Read more: The Department of Defense had to apologize after a tweet suggested the US military was going to bomb millennials into oblivion if they tried to raid Area 51

‘#Ready to drop something much, much bigger’

US Strategic Command B-2 bomber video
A still image from a video posted by US Strategic Command.

US Strategic Command, which oversees the US’s nuclear arsenal, rang in 2019 with a reminder that they’re ready, at any time, to start a nuclear war.

Playing off the image of the ball dropping in New York City’s Times Square, STRATCOM’s official account posted a tweet that included a clip of a B-2 dropping bombs. The command apologized for the message.

Read more: US Strategic Command apologizes for tweeting a ‘pump up’ video about dropping nuclear bombs

#BRRRT

a10 warthog a 10
The A-10 Thunderbolt is armed with a 30mm cannon that fires so rapidly that the crack of each bullet blends into a thundering sound.

In May 2018, the internet was debating whether the word heard on a short audio recording was “Yanny” or “Laurel.” Then the US Air Force joined the debate, referring to a recent strike on Taliban.

“The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRRT they got courtesy of our #A10,” the official US Air Force Twitter account said.

The A-10 gunship carries a fearsome 30mm cannon used to destroy buildings, shred ground vehicles, and kill insurgents. It can fire so rapidly — nearly 3,900 rounds a minute — that the sound of each bullet is indistinguishable from the previous one, blending into a thundering “BRRRT.” 

The US Air Force apologized for the tweet and deleted it, acknowledging it was in “poor taste.”

Read more: Air Force apologizes for tweet comparing A-10 strikes to viral ‘Yanny vs. Laurel’ clip, saying it was in ‘poor taste’

‘I’m like really smart now’

mindy kaling the office
Mindy Kaling’s joke briefly got some props from the US Army.

In January 2018, President Donald Trump fired off a flurry a tweets defending himself in response to the headline-grabbing details in Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury.”

Trump said he was “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.” 

That prompted a tweet from comedian Mindy Kaling from her character in the office, with the caption: “You guys, I’m like really smart now, you don’t even know.”

The US Army’s official Twitter account liked Kaling’s tweet, to which she replied: “#armystrong”

By the following day, the US Army had unliked the tweet.

Read more: The US Army’s Twitter account ‘inadvertently’ liked Mindy Kaling’s tweet mocking Trump’s intelligence

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With ‘historic’ bomber flights on opposite sides of the planet, the US Air Force is sending a message to friends and foes

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway
A B-1B bomber at Ørland airport to train with Norwegian forces, March 13, 2021.

  • US Air Force bombers landed in Norway and India in February for history-making deployments.
  • Those operations reflect the increasing frequency and reach of the Air Force’s bomber operations.
  • Some observers are skeptical that the message the Air Force is trying to send is being received.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

February was a historic month for US Air Force bombers, with two first-of-their-kind operations on opposite sides of the globe.

On February 3, a B-1 bomber and 40 airmen deployed to the Aero India trade show in southern India. A US bomber was last in India in 1945, when it was still under British rule, making this a first for of the Republic of India.

The event included the first US bomber flyover with an Indian fighter jet – “a very significant moment” in US-India military ties, Lt. Col. Michael Fessler, lead US demonstration pilot at Aero India, said in a release.

Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, head of US Pacific Air Forces, echoed that sentiment later in February, telling Insider it was “very exciting to see.”

The “value” of being on the ground is the “collaboration and just the ability to talk in person with those that have mutual interests,” Wilsbach said during a press conference at the Air Force Association air-warfare symposium.

Air Force B-1B bomber India
A B-1B taxis at Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru, India, February 3, 2021.

US-India ties tightened in recent months, spurred on by rising tensions with China. India only recently disengaged from a standoff with China – the deadliest in decades – on their disputed border in the western Himalayas.

The US increased its support for India during that months-long confrontation by delivering cold-weather gear and through “intelligence-sharing,” Wilsbach said in November.

“The ability to partner up with India to the max extent that we can is really important to us,” Wilsbach told Insider in February.

Wilsbach visited Indian Air Force leaders in early March to discuss “ways to further strengthen” bilateral ties.

On February 22, four B-1s landed in Norway for the first US bomber deployment to that country. Since then, they’ve operated around the region, including first-ever landings in Poland and in the Norwegian Arctic.

Their activities “have really been a great demonstration of partnership with our Norwegians friends and an ability to work through the interoperability that is so important,” Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa, told Insider at another AFA press conference.

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway
A B-1B in dense snow drifts at Ørland airport in Norway, March 7, 2021.

Tensions between NATO and Russia have been elevated since Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea. Norway shares a border with Russia and has in the past been cautious about NATO exercises near that boundary.

Heightened tensions have led to more military activity in the European Arctic, however, and Norway has worked closely with its NATO allies as they have increased operations there.

“The Arctic is a very important area for the cooperation between the United States and Norway,” Frank Bakke-Jensen, Norway’s minister of defense, said at a recent think-tank event.

“This deployment represents a unique opportunity for cooperation and joint training with” Norwegian forces, Bakke-Jensen added. “At the same time, the scope of Allied activities must be measured to avoid unnecessary escalation and misunderstandings.”

‘Part of the competitive space’

Air Force B-1B bomber India
US airmen perform post-flight maintenance on a B-1B after a flyover at Aero India 2021 in Bengaluru, February 3, 2021.

US bombers have kept a high pace of operations around the world, including the Middle East. In early March, B-52s flew “a multinational patrol mission” across that region, the fourth this year.

“A great deal of what we’re doing now with our bomber task forces is part of the competitive space,” Gen. Timothy Ray, who oversees bomber operations as head of Air Force Global Strike Command, told Insider at a separate AFA press conference.

“So my ability to quickly get to places around the globe and to show presence and support for partners and allies to augment the forces that are forward, I think, is a very powerful thing,” Ray added.

Like the rest of the US military, the bomber force has embraced dynamic force employment, aiming to be “strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable.” Ray also said his command has “completed work” on “bomber agile combat employment,” another concept focused on more dispersed operations.

As a result, US bombers have been doing more round-trip flights from the US, which “have a bit of an unpredictability that gives us some opportunities,” and more short-term overseas deployments known as bomber task forces, which “give us a different set of opportunities,” Ray said.

“We’ve put a lot of focus on the Pacific and on Europe,” Ray added.

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway
US airmen greet US and Norwegian officials at Ørland Air Force Station in Norway, March 9, 2021.

“Norway and India have been strategically quite significant,” Ray said. “Now we’re kind of just hitting our stride, and I think expanding beyond the normal” locations – such as the UK, Diego Garcia, or Guam – “has really been effective.”

“A lot more options are on the table,” Ray added. “We’re going to continue work them.”

US officials are careful with how they describe those operations, saying they’re meant as messages to friends and foes but not as threats, but observers question whether that messaging will have the desired impact.

In the Middle East, Iran is used to US military displays, and former officials have argued they aren’t worth the strain they put on the aircraft.

The Biden administration is still working on a broader strategy for Asia, and the fact that bomber flights there have continued apace suggests “bureaucratic inertia” and comes with a “risk of misperception,” Van Jackson, a senior lecturer in international relations at New Zealand’s Victoria University, told Insider in February.

Russia is getting the message, “but there is so far no indication that it is causing them to back down,” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told Insider.

Bomber flights, particularly in sensitive areas of the Arctic, “probably” reinforce Moscow’s “perception that NATO is a threat, and a growing one, that requires Russia to counter-posture and continue to modernize their capabilities,” Kristensen said. “As such, this resembles the action-reaction dynamic we remember from the Cold War.”

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This may be the new B-21 Raider stealth bomber’s first outdoor hangar

B-21 Raider bomber
An artist’s rendering of the B-21 at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

  • The Air Force has built a prototype shelter for the new B-21 bomber at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.
  • It is one of a few mock-ups that the service is testing to find the most effective and affordable option for the bomber.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Air Force has begun constructing prototype shelters in anticipation of someday housing its next-generation bomber, B-21 Raider.

The service has erected a temporary prototype “Environmental Protection Shelter” at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, one of a few mock-up models that Air Force Global Strike Command and the B-21 Program Office are testing to find the most effective and affordable option for the Long Range Strike Bomber, according to release.

“Environmental Protection Shelters help extend the life of the aircraft and reduce required maintenance by limiting UV exposure, limiting snow accumulation and melt, and limiting icing/de-icing operations experienced by the aircraft over time,” Col. Derek Oakley, the command’s B-21 Integration and System Management Office director, said in the release.

“These shelters also help us generate sorties more quickly by eliminating the need to always have to move aircraft in and out of hangars,” he said in the March 3 announcement.

Ellsworth Air Force B-21 hangar shelter
The B-21 Raider Environmental Protection Shelter prototype at Ellsworth Air Force Base, February 26, 2021.

Air Force Magazine reported last week that the shelter is 200 feet wide and 100 feet deep, which is also big enough for the B-2 Spirit bomber. While the B-2’s wingspan runs 172 feet, it’s unknown how long or wide the B-21 aircraft may be.

The Air Force has said deliveries of the Raider, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, will begin in the mid-2020s. But the service has been careful not to broadcast details in order to protect its technology.

The Air Force is weighing just how many prototype shelters to place at each of the chosen B-21 bases. In 2019, the service named Ellsworth to become the first operational B-21 base; it will also host the bomber’s first formal training unit. Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, is the service’s preferred alternative.

Dyess and Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, are expected to receive B-21 Raiders “as they become available,” the service said at the time.

Following an environmental study, the Air Force will make its formal decision this summer on the final bases to host the B-21.

The service chose Ellsworth as its first EPS hangar location because its “weather conditions offer the opportunity to collect the most diverse amount of data,” according to the release.

“We will collect a few years of data on these shelters and then incorporate that data into the final Environmental Protection Shelter design,” Oakley said.

Any needed bomber maintenance will occur in indoor maintenance hangars, which is routine, he added.

Ellsworth Air Force B-21 hangar shelter
Contractors place a pair of beams for the B-21 Environmental Protection Shelter prototype at Ellsworth Air Force Base, January 28, 2021.

In January, service officials held a virtual B-21 industry day to discuss various construction projects.

Other facilities the B-21 will need, such as a low observable maintenance hangar to repair stealth coating and a general maintenance hangar, are in the planning stages, officials said.

The Air Force has said it plans to procure at least 100 Raiders, rounding out its bomber inventory to 175, including its B-52 Stratofortress fleet.

However, Gen. Tim Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, has often proposed a bomber force of more than 200 aircraft.

“We’ve said publicly that we think we need 220 bombers overall – 75 B-52s and the rest B-21s, long term,” Ray told Air Force Magazine last year.

The Raider passed its critical design review in December 2018, a pivotal milestone for the program.

– Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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SEALs, Marines, and Norwegian soldiers teamed up with B-1B bombers to practice dropping bombs on new terrain

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway
A US Air Force B-1B takes off from Bodø Air Station in Norway, March 8, 2021.

  • US Air Force bombers deployed to Norway for the first time ever in late February.
  • This week, those bombers trained with troops on the ground to conduct close air support.
  • The deployment, and increased Arctic activity in general, comes amid high tensions between NATO and Russia.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers that deployed to Norway in late February have already demonstrated their reach in the air around Europe, and this week they tested their ability to put bombs on target in new surroundings.

On March 8, a bomber conducted Joint Terminal Attack Controller training with US Navy SEALs, US Marines, and Norwegian soldiers near Setermoen in the Norwegian Arctic.

JTACs, as they’re known, direct aircraft during close-air-support missions. For this training, US and Norwegian JTACs took position “on top of a mountain and quickly established communications” with the bomber to call in targets, a Marine Corps release said.

The exercise comes as NATO militaries have increased their focus on the European Arctic, conducting more ground, air, and naval operations there.

Joint JTAC training “demonstrates our commitment to building interoperability across military services and NATO allies,” Capt. Joe Roberts, a JTAC instructor, said in the release.

‘A little bit different’

Marines Norway JTAC Arctic
Norwegian soldiers and US Marines during Joint Terminal Attack Controller training in Setermoen, Norway, March 8, 2021.

US bombers deploy to Europe and train with Norwegian aircraft regularly, but the four B-1Bs that arrived in Norway on February 22 are the first US bombers to deploy there.

“There’s always something that’s just a little bit different” at a new airfield, Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, deputy commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa, said during a March 5 briefing.

Changing scenery is particularly important for close air support, as working with JTACs or special-operations forces on the ground “allows that sensor on the ground to connect with the shooter, and in this case the bombers, to be able to practice dropping weapons in different environments,” Basham said.

“I can tell you, as a B-1 pilot, that not all terrain looks the same; it has a different look on radar,” Basham added. “Working with different individuals, there are always the unique challenges of accent or just the ability to make sure that we understand exactly what we’re doing.”

Marines rotated through Norway for on-the-ground training – including familiarization with the language barrier – from 2017 to late 2020, when the Corps said that training would move to an “episodic” model.

Marines Norway Arctic
US Marines and Norwegian soldiers during JTAC training in Setermoen, March 8, 2021.

The Marines’ training focused on preparing for harsh Arctic conditions, which is also a goal of the B-1B deployment and of the JTAC training.

“Operating from Norway gives a very unique opportunity to operate in a cold-weather environment,” Basham said.

During the JTAC exercise, the B-1B landed at Bodo Air Force Station in the Norwegian Arctic for “warm-pit refueling,” in which the crew stays in the cockpit during refueling, allowing the bomber to get back in the air faster.

Operations like warm-pit refueling are central to the Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment concept, which is meant to prepare aircraft and crews for more dispersed operations.

The bomber “does just fine in the cold weather,” Basham said. “It’s our great aviators and maintainers and support personnel who might not be as familiar with the rigors of the cold. Our Norwegian partners are helping us along in that.”

The bomber circled the airfield for 45 minutes as “dense snow” was cleared so it could land, and for ground troops, Norway’s Arctic “also poses many obstacles,” including frostbite and mountainous terrain, “which can cause electronic communications issues,” the Corps release said.

Sending a message

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway Arctic
A B-1B bomber lands at Bodø Air Station for the first time, March 8, 2021.

US and NATO activity in the Arctic comes amid heightened tensions with Russia, which has the world’s longest Arctic coastline and extensive economic interests there. Moscow has also increased its military activity in the Arctic.

The Norway deployment reflects several shifts in US strategy, including increased support for NATO in response to Russia’s 2014 incursion in Ukraine, which has led to “a gradual increase of bombers deploying to the UK at higher tempo and flying farther east and north,” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told Insider.

Another shift is in Air Force bomber operations overseas, moving away from longer deployments in one place and toward shorter, more frequent deployments at more bases, which in Europe “has resulted in bomber operations to Iceland and now Norway, locations where the US did not deploy bombers even during the Cold War,” Kristensen said.

Russia has major military installations in the Arctic, where aerial attack has long been a major concern.

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway Arctic
A B-1B bomber is refueled at Bodø Air Station, March 8, 2021.

Moscow has already demonstrated its dismay about the B-1B deployment. On Friday, its Northern Fleet said carrier-based MiG-29K fighter jets had for the first time gone on “experimental combat duty” on the nearby Novaya Zemlya archipelago.

The Russians “seem to get the message” behind the increased US bomber deployments, Kristensen told Insider, “but there is so far no indication that it is causing them to back down.”

“It’s a lot more controversial in Norway, where officials have been busy explaining that the operations should not be seen as an increased threat to Russia,” Kristensen added.

Lt. Gen. Yngve Odlo, chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, stressed that point during the March 5 briefing.

“The communication is quite clear that this is what it is and it’s not an offensive operation at all,” Odlo said. “It’s normal military activity between two close allies. The only special thing is the new asset being deployed to Norway.”

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Rare, close-up video shows a B-2 stealth bomber preparing for takeoff

Air Force B-2 bomber
A US B-2A bomber and a Dutch F-35A conduct aerial operations in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-2 over the North Sea, March 18, 2020.

  • This rare video shows how the B-2 Spirit’s control surfaces move during pre-flight checks.
  • Such tests are done after start-up and during taxi to make sure the surfaces can move freely.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In March last year, three US Air Force B-2 Spirits, belonging to the 509th Bomb Wing and the 131st Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, operated from RAF Fairford, UK, as part of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-2 deployment.

From there, the stealth bombers carried out a variety of missions across northern Europe, including one that saw the B-2s fly toward the Arctic, over Iceland.

As usual, their stay in the UK also provided a great opportunity for local aviation enthusiasts and spotters to get some cool in-action photos and videos of the tailless aircraft.

To that respect, the clip below is particularly interesting. Posted by “Saint1 Aviation Vids” Youtube channel, that includes many great videos of B-2s, B-52s and U-2s, it shows B-2 #82-1068, “Spirit of New York,” as it carries out pre-flight checks on its control surfaces before departing RAF Fairford.

Similar tests are conducted after start-up and during taxi in order to assess that the surfaces are not obstructed or limited and can freely move.

The video shows the movement of the split rudders and elevons that on the B-2 are installed along the trailing edge of the plane. Since the aircraft has no vertical fin, the split rudders and the elevons are used to control the aircraft rotation along the vertical/yaw axis, whereas pitch and roll are controlled by means of (mid and inboard) elevons. The split-rudders also act as speed brakes.

Unfortunately, the clip doesn’t provide a clear view of the Spirit’s peculiar exhaust and the wedge-shaped flap in the middle of the trailing edge, the GLAS (Gust Load Alleviation System), that looks like the aircraft’s beaver tail and counters the rolling impact or resonance to smooth out the ride of the B-2 in turbulent conditions and extend the aircraft’s fatigue life.

Air Force test data finite elemental analysis (FEA) modeling suggest the B-2 will remain structurally sound to approximately 40,000 flight hours. This analysis also revealed that the rudder attachment points at the B-2’s wingtips are the highest structural stress areas and will be the first to fail.

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The Air Force has changed its height standards, opening the door for more women pilots

Zoe Kotnik F-16 Air Force pilot
Capt. Zoe Kotnik clips on her mask in her F-16 prior to a sortie at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, November 2017.

  • The US Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command announced interim changes to height standards for career enlisted aviators.
  • The changes will make those positions available to more recruits entering the enlisted ranks, particularly women, without needing a waiver.
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In keeping with their efforts to improve branch-wide diversity, the US Air Force (USAF) Air Education and Training Command (AETC) announced interim changes to their dated height standards for Career Enlisted Aviators (CEAs).

The updates come as the result of preliminary information gathered from an ongoing anthropometric study that the Air Force began last year.

The study’s aim is to provide the Air Force with current and accurate data on what is physically necessary for specific Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSCs). The revised height restrictions, effective immediately, are seen below:

Air Force height requirements
Air Force interim height standards.

The Air Force announcement will make CEA positions available to a significant portion of recruits entering the enlisted ranks, particularly women, without the need for a waiver.

This comes less than a year after a similar order that removed the requirement for pilots to be over 5’4″ or under 6’5,” the same standard that was applied to enlisted aviation careers.

The Air Force saw the need to update their requirements that were based on a 1967 study that observed almost entirely white male pilots. Much of that old study evaluated the subject’s ability to reach controls while in a seated position, which does reflect operational requirements for many modern CEAs.

“The former policy was not applicable to career enlisted aviators, as the vast majority of CEAs move throughout the aircraft for the duration of the duty day,” said CMSgt Philip Leonard, the Air Force’s CEA career field manager.

The new measure is a boost to the inclusion of women in the armed forces, most notably minority women. Monday’s statement from the AETC cites data from the US National Center for Health Statistics that says 43.5% of US women aged 20-29 (including 74% of African Americans, 72% of Latino Americans and 61% of Asian Americans) are under 64 inches tall. This compares with only 3.7% of American males of the same age.

Air Force F-35 pilot Kristen Wolfe
Capt. Kristin Wolfe, F-35A Demonstration Team pilot, prepares for takeoff at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, February 6, 2020.

The Air Force has approved 87% of the height waivers it has processed since 2015, but many applicants may not be aware of the likelihood that they’ll be approved, or may be discouraged from applying in the first place when they see they don’t meet the requirement, as noted by Stephen Losey of Air Force Times.

Expanding the range for eligibility without a waiver encourages the spirit of diversity the Air Force is setting its sights on.

“We’re really focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to serve in the Air Force,” said Gwendolyn DeFilippi last May. DeFilippi is assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services. “This is a huge win, especially for women and minorities of smaller stature who previously may have assumed they weren’t qualified to join our team.”

35% of Air Force aviator careers are enlisted personnel. The interim revisions open up those fields to a much more diverse pool of candidates.

Women under 5’4″ can now serve without a waiver as in-flight refuelers, flight engineers, flight attendants, aircraft loadmasters, airborne mission systems operators and airborne cryptologic language analysts, among others.

The study that precipitated the shift in policy is expected to be completed by fall of 2022, and should give the Air Force more actionable data to remove unnecessary restrictions on service members of smaller stature.

“We must implement change with a sense of purpose and with the Department of Defense’s strategic position in mind,” added Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, AETC commander. “Enacting this meaningful change ensures the type of agile, lethal and diverse force we need to be.”
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US Air Force bombers are on an ‘historic’ mission to Norway to let allies know they’ll be ‘on target, first time’

Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber Dyess
A B-1B prepares to take off from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, February 21, 2021.

  • US B-1B bombers arrived in Norway on February 22 for the first bomber deployment ever to that country.
  • NATO officials said the deployment shouldn’t be seen as a threat, but the bombers’ capabilities should be clear.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Four US Air Force B-1B bombers arrived at Ørland Air Station in central Norway on February 22 for what officials say is a “historic” deployment meant to familiarize US airmen with new terrain.

While US bombers regularly train with Norwegian aircraft, they usually fly out of another major base in the region.

“This is the first time that we are generating flights in partnership with our close ally, Norway, as well as operating from Norwegian soil,” Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, deputy commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa, told reporters Friday.

“There’s always something that’s just a little bit different” at a new airfield, Basham said.

Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber Norway
US airmen unload a B-1B at Ørland Air Force Station in Norway, February 22, 2021.

“Under our newest concept of Agile Combat Employment, we have got to maintain the level of agility and flexibility to operate from many different places,” Basham added, referring to an operational concept in which aircraft and airmen train to deploy from main “hub” bases to a variety of “spoke” airfields.

Operating from Norway is also a chance to acclimate to a colder environment – a concern more for airmen than aircraft, Basham said – and to train more with their Norwegian counterparts.

The location allows “integrating probably a little bit more often than we might from other locations with their fighters [and] their navy,” Basham added. “Being on the ground with them before we operate and after we operate also creates a unique opportunity to learn.”

Lt. Gen. Yngve Odlo, chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, which oversees the country’s military operations, said the deployment is “an important part” of ensuring the US and Norway can work together in that region and its conditions.

US bombers are “a strategic asset, and it is highly important to both of us … to be able to have the right processes” to use them, “if needed,” Odlo said.

On target

Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber Norway
Two crew chiefs by a B-1B at Ørland Air Force Station, February 26, 2021.

The B-1Bs in Norway flew their first Bomber Task Force mission on February 26, conducting “tactical integration” with a Norwegian F-35 and naval assets over the Norwegian Sea. (An initial press release said they trained in the eastern Barents Sea, much closer to Russia, but a spokesperson told Insider that was “a brief miscommunication.”)

In early March, two B-1Bs trained with Danish, Polish, Italian, and German fighters over the Baltic Sea and flew over the capitals of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – “a testament to the unmatched strength and capability of the NATO alliance,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa.

The US bomber crews’ training will also include working with joint terminal air controllers and special-operations forces to drop inert munitions, which “allows that sensor on the ground to connect with the shooter, and in this case the bombers, to be able to practice dropping weapons in different environments,” Basham said.

“I can tell you, as a B-1 pilot, that not all terrain looks the same,” Basham added. “It has a different look on radar, and working with different individuals, there are always the unique challenges of accent or just the ability to make sure that we understand exactly what we’re doing.”

The deployment has several weeks left, and the training doing is important not only for US airmen but also as a signal to allies, Basham said.

“The one thing you’re always thinking about if you’re ever required to employ in a location such as this … you typically don’t get a first chance to practice and then a second chance to succeed,” Basham said. “That’s why it’s so important to exercise every aspect of, in this particular case, what our B-1s can do, and certainly not just with Norway but many other countries so that if ever called upon, our allies are assured that we will be on target, first time.”

‘Some reverberations’

Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber Norway
An Air Force public-affairs specialist documents a B-1B landing at Ørland Air Force Station, March 3, 2021.

Broader tensions between NATO and Russia, heightened after Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, loom over the bomber deployment.

Norway is NATO’s northernmost European member, and its border with Russia is adjacent to sensitive Russian military installations in the Arctic, where both NATO and Russia are more active. Norway also looks over important sea lanes through which Russian warships must pass to reach the Atlantic Ocean.

Norway takes its neighbor’s concerns about military activity into account, but Moscow still watches NATO operations in the region, especially bomber flights, warily.

Two weeks before the bombers arrived, Russia released footage of Russian Tu-160 bombers on “a planned flight” over the Barents, Greenland, and Norwegian seas. Days later, Russia said it would conduct missile tests in waters between the Barents and Norwegian seas, which was seen as a sign of displeasure over the bombers’ impending arrival.

On Friday, Odlo and Basham stressed that the deployment was normal military activity.

There are always “some reverberations from the political side of the house,” when Norway invites “close allies” to operate there, “which is normal,” Odlo said.

“There is no doubt that Russia probably looks at this as just what they would do,” Basham said. “As you’re looking to continue to improve your readiness, you want to make sure that you’re pushing to the limits of your capability.”

Basham reiterated that the deployment shouldn’t be seen as a threat but said it was a reflection of US capabilities.

“If someone were to take a message that you’re not restricted to one particular location, that would be a good message for them to perceive,” Basham said.

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The Air Force released more photos of the only 2 B-52s ever resurrected from its ‘boneyard’

Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber
B-52H bombers “Wise Guy,” left, and “Ghost Rider,” right, sit nose-to-nose with Tinker Air Force Base and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in the background, February 26, 2021.

  • Take a look at these interesting images of two B-52 bombers undergoing maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
  • “Wise Guy” and “Ghost Rider,” as they’re called, are the only B-52s to be resurrected from the Air Force’s “boneyard.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As reported in detail in the last few months, only two US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers have been restored out of the “Boneyard,” at the 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group) at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, to be returned to front-line service: “Ghost Rider,” tail number 61-0007, and “Wise Guy,” tail number 60-0034.

Both aircraft had been retired and put on long term storage, where they were supposed to remain to be cannibalized for parts needed by other B-52Hs.

However, the plans changed and both BUFFs have been resurrected. After being mothballed for seven years in the desert “Ghost Rider” returned to service in 2015 with the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota. The second, “Wise Guy,” spent 10 years in the desert before being resurrected late last year.

Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber
“Wise Guy,” left, and “Ghost Rider,” right, undergoing programmed depot maintenance at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex at Tinker Air Force Base, February 26, 2021.

The two “Lazarus” aircraft were regenerated at the Tinker Air Force Base’s Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, and it’s there that they are currently undergoing PDM (Programmed Depot Maintenance).

PDM is a complex process, that each Stratofortress bomber undergoes every four years. The airframe is stripped of its paint, so maintainers can assess if there are leaks or repairs are needed on the outer skin of the aircraft.

Then, the aircraft is almost completely disassembled and each part is inspected and all defects are fixed before they are rebuilt, repainted, carry out several Functional Check Flights before they are sent back to their home stations.

The aircraft return to active service as if they were almost brand new.

Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber
“Wise Guy,” left, and “Ghost Rider,” right, with Tinker Air Force Base and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in the background, February 26, 2021.

While “Ghost Rider” is currently undergoing routine PDM, “Wise Guy” is undergoing the heavy maintenance as the final part of a three-phase process to resurrect the aircraft and return it to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, so that the number of B-52 bombers mandated by Congress is brought back to full strength at 76 aircraft.

The two B-52H Stratofortress bombers were parked nose-to-nose at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, on February 26, 2021, and this provided the opportunity to shoot some interesting photos that you can find in this article.

Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber
“Wise Guy,” left, and “Ghost Rider,” right, nose-to-nose at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, February 26, 2021.

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The US Air Force’s plan to dodge Chinese missiles means new jobs for airmen who keep fighters flying

Air Force Cope North Guam
An eight-plane formation over Guam during exercise Cope North 21, February 9, 2021.

The US Air Force’s efforts to disperse its forces have gained new urgency as the Chinese military grows in size and reach, but operating from far-flung, often austere airfields creates new logistical challenges. To overcome them, the service is asking its airmen take on new tasks.

Expeditionary operations are getting special attention in the Pacific, where important facilities, like Anderson Air Force Base on Guam, are within range of Chinese missiles.

The Air Force has spent more time refining a concept known as Agile Combat Employment, which pairs bases like Anderson, or hubs, with remote airfields, called spokes. To support operations at those spokes, the service is looking to “multi-capable airmen,” who have been trained do tasks outside their assigned specialties.

Both concepts were on display during Cope North 21, an exercise conducted with Japanese and Australian forces in the Pacific between February 3 and February 19.

“Every year, we try to expand the envelope of what we can do,” Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, head of US Pacific Air Forces, said of Cope North during the Air Force Association air-warfare symposium last week.

Air Force F-35 C-130J Guam
Two F-35s wait to refuel from a C-130J at Northwest Field in Guam as part of Agile Combat Employment multi-capable airmen training during Cope North 21, February 16, 2021.

During the exercise, F-35s from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska flew to Guam. During the drills, the F-35s landed in the island nation of Palau, refueled without shutting down their engines, and, after less than an hour, took off again to continue training, Wilsbach said.

That demonstrated “the ability to get back and forth to Palau, which is a very long distance, and the ability to refuel on the ground,” which requires multi-capable airmen, Wilsbach added.

“One of the things that we were doing at Cope North was expanding this notion of multi-capable airman,” Wilsbach said. “We train airman in generally one specific area, like, for example, a security forces member … but what if a security forces member could also refuel an aircraft or reload an aircraft or work on communications gear at those outstations?”

In addition to airfields on Palau, US and Japanese airmen conducted training at the rugged Northwest Field on Guam.

Pacific Air Forces is implementing a syllabus to teach airmen skills from outside their assigned career fields, Wilsbach said. “This gets us more capability with fewer people, which reduces the logistics requirements at some of those spoke locations.”

Able to pick up a weapon

Air Force C-130J Palau
A US Air Force C-130J lands at Angaur in Palau during Cope North 21, February 11, 2021.

Air Force personnel around the world, including in the US and Europe, are practicing ACE and related concepts, and Pacific Air Forces includes an ACE component in most exercises, Wilsbach has said.

In the days after Cope North, the 18th Wing, the host unit at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, held its first multi-capable airman training course.

“Prior to this – or even historically – some airmen made it through their whole career without really touching an aircraft,” Senior Master Sgt. Frank Uecker, ACE superintendent for the 18th Wing, said in a release.

The service’s Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Operations School, based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, is also trying to spread lessons from airmen who have led development of ACE among the maintenance, munitions, and logistics experts it trains.

What the school “is really trying to codify is what is the supply chain, what’s the logistics look like for that, what capabilities do you need in a multi-capable airman to be able to minimize the footprint and stay agile,” 57th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Michael Drowley, who oversees the school, said last month.

Air Force airman fuel F-16 Guam
A US Air Force airman pulls fuel lines to an F-16 during an agile combat employment scenario at Northwest Field during exercise Cope North 21, February 15, 2021.

“Right now, they’re really in the tabletop exercise, red-teaming aspect of looking at some of those operations and what the requirements would be and then what do they need to train their instructors to be able to do, so that way [instructors] can go back out to the units and now provide that training,” Drowley added.

The new tasks for airmen aren’t limited to the maintenance and logistical support. They may also have to help defend the base from missiles, enemy aircraft, and other incoming threats.

“We’re looking at acquiring some additional light capability to go out primarily to the spokes, because our hubs are pretty well protected with things like” Patriot missiles and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon system, Wilsbach said.

“Who’s at the base and what they can do to help you defend the base goes back to that multi-capable airman,” Wilsbach added. “There will be expectations that they will be able to add to the defense of the base, regardless of whether they’re a security forces member or not. They’ve got to be able to pick up a weapon that can help defend that location until you leave or until such time as the threat has been abated.”

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