Highlights

  • US Air Force grounded its fleet of B-2 Spirit Bombers
  • Bombers grounded after in-flight malfunction in plane
  • B-2 Bombers part of aerial wing of USA's nuclear triad

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USA's most feared nuclear warplane out of action: why grounding of all B-2 Spirit Bombers is significant

From Afghanistan to Iraq, and from Kosovo to Libya - the B-2 bomber has been part of many conflicts. But at a time when the Ukraine war has put the entire world on edge, the B-2 has been grounded.

One of America's most feared aerial weapons - the B-2 Spirit bomber. It's very hard to detect, even by radar. It can fly 9,600 km without stopping or refuelling. And it can drop up to 20 tonnes of bombs on the enemy - both conventional and nuclear. But one accident has put this dangerous weapon out of action.

The B-2 bomber - a major part of America's nuclear triad - has been removed from USA's arsenal at a time when Russia is threatening the West with nuclear war, China is cornering Taiwan, and North Korea is growing more belligerent.


THE GROUNDING

From Afghanistan to Iraq, and from Kosovo to Libya - the B-2 bomber has been part of many conflicts. But at a time when the Ukraine war has put the entire world on edge, the B-2 has been grounded.

The US Air Force's entire fleet of B-2s has been grounded after a malfunction in one of the warplanes. The 'safety pause' was ordered by the Air Force Global Strike Command. Each bomber plane will be inspected, as per reports. There is no "speculated end date" for the B-2 grounding yet. However, the bombers can still be flown for missions if ordered by the US President. This also means that for the first time in 26 years, no B-2 flyover will take place at the 2023 Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game.

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MULTIPLE MISHAPS

USA's bomber fleet has seen multiple mishaps in recent years.

The latest incident took place on 10 December when a B-2 suffered an in-flight malfunction. The plane made an emergency landing and caught fire on the runway. The incident occurred at Whiteman airbase, and its runway was closed for over 10 days. No injuries were reported, and the plane was not carrying bombs.

The previous incident on 14 September, when a B-2's hydraulics system failed. Its landing gear collapsed while the plane was landing. The bomber skidded off the runway, and the repairs cost $10 million. This incident also took place at the Whiteman Air Force Base.

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Before this, it was the B-1B Lancer bombers which were grounded in June 2018. A B-1B had made an emergency landing in Midland, Texas. The planes were grounded after an issue was found in ejection seat parts. The B-1Bs are important as they carry the US Air Force's largest conventional payloads, but not nuclear bombs.


WHY B-2 IS SPECIAL

The B-2 is considered a special aircraft because it combines very long range, a heavy explosive payload, and stealth capabilities.

It's a multi-role, heavy bomber warplane which is meant to penetrate enemy air defences, and attack with both nuclear and conventional bombs. A fleet of around 20 planes is housed at the US Air Force's Whiteman base. The bomber was first unveiled in 1989, and the first jet was delivered at Whiteman in 1993. The warplane proved its combat worthiness in Operation Allied Force against Serbia. The B-2 was also part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.


WHY GROUNDING IS SIGNIFICANT

The grounding of the B-2 is being considered very significant.

This is because the bombers are an important part of USA's nuclear arsenal. B-2s and B-52s form the aerial wing of USA's nuclear triad. A nuclear triad refers to a country's capability to attack from land, sea, and air. USA recently sent B-2s to Europe and the Indo-Pacific amid rising geopolitical tension.

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The timing of this development is very unfortunate for America.

This is because of Russia's frequent nuclear threats amid its Ukraine invasion. Also, China's increasing show of military force against Taiwan, and North Korea's missile tests to achieve its "most powerful nuclear force" ambition are headaches for Washington. Amid all this, Iran is also continuing its tests amid failure to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.


PENTAGON'S REASSURANCE

America has denied that its military force is weakened by the absence of the bombers.

The Pentagon's spokesperson has said that the B-2 grounding doesn't make USA vulnerable in any way. Brig Gen Pat Ryder said that USA is maintaining bomber capability to deter adversaries, and also engage in combat, if needed. He said that the US military has a variety of capabilities in its strategic bomber fleet, and the B-52 fleet provides redundant capability to the B-2. The Pentagon said that at any time, aircraft, ships, and forces on ground are available to confront any threat.

Meanwhile, the ground is already being laid for the replacement of the Spirit bomber.


THE NEXT GENERATION

The B-21 Raider is expected to gradually replace the US Air Force's B-1 and B-2 bombers. The B-21 Raider is a 6th-generation, stealth bomber which was unveiled recently. It has been called the most advanced military aircraft ever built, by Northrop Grumman, the manufacturer. The B-21 has a variety of capabilities, from intel gathering, to battle management, and ally integration. It has been built with an open-system architecture, making it highly adaptable.

USA sees itself as a keeper of global peace. At a time when its adversaries are challenging the world order, America is under greater pressure to maintain its military deterrence. Quick resolution of safety issues in the B-2 bombers, or swift induction of the new B-21 Raiders appears to be an important part of this.

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