The House Armed Services Committee is proposing a $460-million reduction in the development budget for the plane that will replace both the long-serving B-52 Stratofortress and the iconic B-2 Spirit. Perhaps recognizing that fact, the Air Force is developing an upgrade program for the B-2 that will allow it to better manage more advanced air defenses.
The reduction in the Long Range Strike budget was uncovered by Defense News as part of its coverage of the 2016 Budget, and while it might seem simply like a case of congressional penny pinching, a source told the site that the reduction was actually requested by the Long Range Strike-Bomber office.
According to DN, the USAF originally requested $1.2 billion for the LRS-B as part of its $17.9-billion research, development, test, and evaluation budget. That figure grows year over year until it hits $3.7 billion by 2020. The resulting plane would cost an estimated $550 million (in 2010 dollars), with a targeted procurement of 50 to 100 planes.
As for the current B-2, the stealthy bomber's 1980s provenance may prove troublesome in the face of advancing air-defense technology. According to Military.com, it's the ever-increasing power of today's computers that are endowing SAMs and the like with stealth-detecting powers that have military planners concerned.
The changes to the B-2 target its Defensive Management System, which is used to warn the aircraft's crew of potential ground threats.
"We will get a much more capable system in seeing the threats as you penetrate adversary air space, giving the pilot the ability to re-route and avoid those areas," Eric Single, the head of the Air Force's Global strike acquisition division. "What [the upgrade] does is identifies them and locates them so the pilots can avoid getting within those lethal ranges.
"The advanced processors on the DMS modernization program will enable pilots to make adjustments on the fly in flight – as threat indications change," Single told Military.com. "By the time you get to enemy territory it could be 10, 12, 15 hours since take off and a lot of threats change."
It's unclear how much the upgrade program will cost, but with the B-2's $2.2-billion sticker price in mind, we aren't too sure there's a price that's too high.