Hey, wanna feel old? The B-2 bomber, that sleek paragon of stealth smoothness that still looks like it’s from the future, is getting ready for retirement.
The B-2 Spirit and its slightly older counterpart, the B-1B Lancer (or as it’s more commonly known known in the military, the “Bone,” because, you know, B-1, B-One, Bone. Get it?) will both begin the retirement process sometime in the next decade, the United States Air Force said in a press release:
“As part of our decisions presented in the FY19 President’s Budget, the Air Force will update the B-52 bomber fleet and fund development of replacement engines,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson. “We will also continue necessary B-1 and B-2 modifications to keep them relevant until the B-21s come on line.”
Once sufficient B-21 aircraft are operational, the B-1s and B-2s will be incrementally retired. Delivery and retirement timelines are dependent on the B-21 production and delivery schedules.
The B-21 Raider is, of course, an as-yet unseen mystery plane that probably exists in corporeal form somewhere, but which has yet to be shown off to the public. Also, its cost has yet to be shown off to the public, as how expensive it is also just so happens to be a state secret.
How many B-21s is the U.S. buying? Also a mystery! Because then you’d know how much they cost. Though the Air Force does seem to want somewhere between 80 and 200 of the things, depending on funding from the Congress, of course.
All we really know about the B-21 so far is that it’ll be stealthy and it’ll sort of look like this drawing, which is the only image that’s been released so far:
The B-2 and B-1B that the B-21 is replacing specialize in long-range conventional strike missions, though the B-2 is also capable of dropping nukes. They go about their missions in different ways, too, with the B-2 moving relatively slow and relying mostly on its radar-evading stealth capabilities to get behind enemy lines, while the B-1B is capable of supersonic speeds and specializes in low-level bombing runs. The B-1B entered service in 1986 after a bit of a tortured development, and the B-2 entered service in 1997.
The B-52, AKA the Big Ugly Fat Fucker, AKA the big lumbering bomb truck, has been in service since 1955, and will continue to be in service for damn near 100 years by the time it’s done, however:
The decision to maintain the B-52 is based on numerous factors including maintenance and sustainment metrics, such as aircraft availability, mission capability, supply, maintenance hours per flying hour and total cost perspectives.
“With an adequate sustainment and modernization focus, including new engines, the B-52 has a projected service life through 2050, remaining a key part of the bomber enterprise well into the future,” said Gen. Robin Rand, Air Force Global Strike Command commander.
May we all live in a world where none of these planes are necessary any longer, and may they all be retired long before their time is due.