The Northrop (later Northrop Grumman) B-2 Spirit, also known as the Stealth Bomber, is an American strategic bomber, featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is able to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons. The bomber has a crew of two and can drop up to eighty 500 lb (230 kg)-class JDAM GPS-guided bombs, or sixteen 2,400 lb (1,100 kg) B83 nuclear bombs. The B-2 is the only aircraft that can carry large air-to-surface standoff weapons in a stealth configuration.
Development originally started under the “Advanced Technology Bomber” (ATB) project during the Carter administration, and its performance was one of his reasons for the cancellation of the supersonic Rockwell B-1 Lancer. ATB continued during the Reagan administration, but worries about delays in its introduction led to the reinstatement of the B-1 program as well. Program costs rose throughout development. Designed and manufactured by Northrop Grumman with assistance from Boeing, the cost of each aircraft averaged US$737 million (in 1997 dollars). Total procurement costs averaged $929 million per aircraft, which includes spare parts, equipment, retrofitting, and software support. The total program cost including development, engineering and testing, averaged $2.1 billion per aircraft in 1997.
Because of its considerable capital and operating costs, the project was controversial in the U.S. Congress and among the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The winding-down of the Cold War in the latter portion of the 1980s dramatically reduced the need for the aircraft, which was designed with the intention of penetrating Soviet airspace and attacking high-value targets. During the late 1980s and 1990s, Congress slashed plans to purchase 132 bombers to 21. In 2008, a B-2 was destroyed in a crash shortly after takeoff, and the crew ejected safely. A total of 20 B-2s remain in service with the United States Air Force, who plan to operate the B-2 until 2058.
The B-2 is capable of all-altitude attack missions up to 50,000 feet (15,000 m), with a range of more than 6,000 nautical miles (11,000 km) unrefuelled and over 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km) with one refueling. Though originally designed primarily as a nuclear bomber, it was first used in combat to drop conventional bombs on Serbia during the Kosovo War in 1999, and saw continued use during the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan.