The Air Force’s B-2 deception

The Air Force’s B-2 deception

An Air Force B-2 Spirit sat idle on Guam for more than a year after an engine fire that officials first characterized as ‘minor,’ then revealed last week was so ‘horrific’ it will sideline the bomber for two more years. The story shows commanders’ sensitivities about tipping their hand too much about their strategic posture in the Western Pacific, but it also raises questions about just how ready the B-2 fleet actually is.

An Air Force official story last week described how the fire aboard the B-2 ‘Spirit of Washington’ was so destructive that the bird required extensive repairs and components normally installed during depot-level maintenance. And 18 months of work didn’t put it back on duty: It only got the B-2 to the point that it could limp from Guam to Palmdale, Calif., where it landed Aug. 16 for two years’ more work before it can rejoin the fleet. The Air Force’s story treated the airmen and Northrop Grumman engineers who brought the B-2 home as heroes, but still made it sound like a dicey proposition:

Once the aircraft was ready to again take the skies, the entire team outlined a comprehensive plan to fly the aircraft home. They established very strict controls on weight, altitude, and speed to lessen stress on the airframe. In-flight refueling was used to prevent ever having to take on the weight of a full load of fuel and a support aircraft followed along to assist the flight crew with avoiding turbulent weather and coordinate with air traffic control.

“The 141st Air Refueling Wing (ANG) deployed to Guam from Fairchild, Washington, and provided KC-135s for refueling and to serve as a support plane,” Colonel Williams said. “That allowed us to put a team of Northrop engineers in the support plane where they could monitor the aircraft’s performance and offer technical advice to deal with any issues.”

Fortunately for all, this “wounded warrior” took to the skies like the proverbial phoenix traveling the entire distance without incident and landing in Palmdale more than a month ahead of schedule. It now starts a 24 month [Programmed Depot Maintenance] process that will completely return this veteran to operational duty for the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, Mo.

So — for more than a year, the Air Force was without one of its 20 B-2s, even though it physically remained ‘forward’ at the base from which it’s supposed to be ready for tasking. And although the service did announce the Spirit of Washington’s engine fire when it happened, it never made clear that the ‘minor’ mishap had put the bomber out of service.

Not surprising, given how secret the B-2s are and the strategic sensitivities in the Western Pacific, but it makes you wonder: Air Force Global Strike Command is supposed to be improving its ‘culture’ and getting serious about its strategic mission. What else should we know that its cloak of secrecy enables it not to tell?

h/t: The Diplomat

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Kind of sounds like the way F-35 has been run to me.

Does NG give the B2 a 3 year, 30,000 mile warrany like Ford? I think not. Suck it up taxpayer! Oops — that’s me.

I love how this guy thinks that the Operational Readiness rate for a national bomber asset is somehow his business. What, should the US have told him a year ago that one of our bombers is down?…and that’s somehow going to improve the “culture” of Stratcom? Please.

So… the Air Force wasn’t wanting to reveal to the world that one of its front-line bombers was more damaged than it had let on. How is this a story? OpSec being what it is who would reasonably assume this information should be released into the public domain? If there is an issue that is inherent to the aircraft that make them all prone to fire that might be a different matter but an engine fire on a single tail number is hardly a conspiracy.

I sure hope nobody finds out that the F-22s are grounded too!

(Oops! Did I just write that? Trampling on OpSec again!)

Just some feedback for the author… I don’t care one bit that the AF and anyone else that knew the extent of the damage kept it quiet. OpSec has been sacrificed too many times for a friggen headline or a short sighted political gain.

ok lets start with a bit of “full disclosure”… I’m a liberal who firmly believes our government keeps way too many secrets.

That said, this time I think they made the right call. When you need a deterrent, the ideal situation is to have a loaded gun (metaphorically) but if all you’ve got is an empty gun then faking it makes sense.

Also, why the big panic here? Yes the AF has only 20 of these things but once the price of a plane pushes past $1B we need to stop thinking of them in the same way we think of other planes and start thinking of them the way we think of naval ships (maybe a stealth bomber is roughly analogous to an destroyer or SSN?). If a major ship suffered a catastrophic fire and had to undergo a couple of years of repair and refit, no one would be calling foul.

I’ve thought a heavy bomber is pretty easily equivalent to a destroyer in terms of offensive striking power. Defense, not so much.

This just highlights the genius of the USAF only buying 20 of these airplanes! One is down and it is a classified event? Yeah, pure genius. What we really need now is a 3 decade long development program where the defense contractors make a profit on every day they drag out the design of a new bird that looks and performs just like the last one, but results in zero airplanes actually being built. That would make things even better.

The article starts with a silly premise and draws a silly conclusion. Congratulations should go out for maintaining OPSEC for repairs of this magnitude. The ability to actually keep secrets from those who do not have a need to know ot those too superficial to draw appropriate conclusions once they are in the know is…priceless.

Um, OPSEC advocates, please note that it was AIR FORCE OFFICIALS who just told everybody that the plane is going to be down for two more years. Will you be updating your comments to chastise the Air Force for revealing national-security secrets?

It would be just about impossible to compromise “OPSEC” unless you are in the know, and here the AF officials are obviously in the know and for whatever strange and unusual reason decided that this was a good time to compromise OPSEC. Hopefully someone whacked them smartly across the knuckles and sent them to bed without a cookie.

Once upon a time the operational status of any nuclear delivery platform was actually considered to be rather private and not exactly “newsworthy”.

The only thing this article makes me wonder about is the level of intelligence of the author. They must have sat around thinking, “what the hell am I going to write about today? I know, I’ll make a hit piece on the B-2 that I haven’t got a clue about.” The plane was heavily damaged at a forward location. What the hell did you think was going to happen? Did you think they’d strap it on the back of a C-5 and fly it back to the states? Or perhaps you thought they’d bring in a CH-53 to fly it back? Which part of “was so destructive that the bird required extensive repairs and components normally installed during depot-level maintenance.” is not registering? Do you even know what “depot-level maintenance” means? You should be giving them an attaboy for even getting the damn thing home at all, but then I guess that’s not “hard hitting” or “contraversial” enough for you. I guess it’s more important for the author to feel intelligent than to actually be so.

Brad, airframes in depot is no more secret than an aircraft carrier in drydock. It’s understood the asset is unavailable and adjustments in force structure are made to compensate. Just don’t ask for details on what is being done during the depot period. That’s against OPSEC.

I know this little trend of picking on journalists has and will continue no matter what, but you guys are a bunch of white-knight cry babies.

The USAF shot itself in the foot and was like “nothing to see… little flesh wound.” Then a while later the story becomes “we blew off some toes… major rehab…” So the journalist rightly asks “hey, I thought you said X but now it’s Y, what’s up? Anything else you’d like to add?”

Sorry if you don’t get what a reporter does, but pointing out discrepancy like that is part of the job.

I wonder if maybe the people actually in charge of OpSec know almost as much about OpSec as internet bloggers…


not by AirForce’s choice

One question.…did all the organizations that needed to know the real-time availability of this weapons platform — and were supposed to know — get the straight skinny// Was there *internal* deception, along with the external obfuscation? For the public, it’s just idle curiosity, but for commanders and staff it’s rather more. Don’t say you can provide support if the needed equipment is deadlined indefinitely.…

USAF leadership don’t worry about readiness. They’re too busy making sure everybody loves Jesus.

Actually, that is the “end result” of the One Airplane Principle as proposed by Norm Augustine a while back.

Mike, a little bit of honesty (and eventually perhaps even a little bit of trust) on both sides of that fence goes a LONG way! At least on the USAF side, there MAY have been an honest, logic-based reason to “spin” the press release. Just sayin.…

And I don’t disagree with you. I think somebody thought this was a good human-interest story showcasing their can-do USAF work ethic… fine and good. They messed up by not keeping the narrative consistent. There was no need I can see for them to characterize the severity of that fire in the first place. Some journalists noticed the difference, because that’s what they do.

We shouldn’t want our reporters to be too understanding in this democratic republic. They should be adversarial at times. The USAF earned themselves a couple tough questions here. That is not evidence of a lack of patriotism or a disregard for security on the reporter’s part.

I even agree with you that the USAF earned its share of tough questions, but at the same time the journalists that push beyond that “boundary” for info, put that little smirky spin on the facts, or even play a bit loose with the facts, earn their share of distrust as well.

I still contend that honesty and integrity and maybe even a little bit of that patriotism on BOTH sides will go a long way, but who steps up the the plate first?

Here’s how I see the big picture. The military should do its job of protecting the country. The press should do its job of rattling the military’s cage every once in a while, just like with every other institution in this country. Follow the facts where they lead. Better that than having a real enemy point out your flaws, right? That’s the basis of the relationship. The press should not expect nor demand too much openness, and the military should not expect a free pass.

The final arbiters, the referee in this system is supposed to be the informed public. We’re the ones who are supposed to keep these different institutions honest and in their own lanes. We’ve been on autopilot for about 40 years in that regard, it’s probably always been hit and miss. At least I certainly hope things didn’t get like they are by people being attentive. We need to get into the habit of demanding integrity from our leaders in all parts of our republic.

Now as for this story, is THIS reporter guilty of ‘smirking’ or playing loose with the facts? Point it out if you see it.

Perhaps that last paragraph?

The news was the fire, the understatement of the impact, and the truth. But in that last paragraph, speculative “smirking” leaves it open to just about anything, after all , anyone who might misstate the results of a fire on a B-2 MUST be hiding something else… what could that be.… what about Roswell.… what hanger was that you say?

Do you perhaps see just a little bit of that “smirk” and maybe even just a little bit of the sensationalistic “enquiring minds wanting to know” even if its total speculation?

Sounds like a bunch of folks wanted to PCS before you could smell the smoke.

I don’t see what the problem about. The engine caught fire? Why don’t they go by date engine manufactured and check the other aircraft at least a couple prior to and after and dissect engines for metal fatigue unless it an electrical problem that started. I have heard before they had brake problems,true or false? Is this aircraft one of the nightmares like the Delta Dart.? Electrical.

When we have such ‘heavy hitters’ non mission capable, then that is information that involves ‘operation readiness’ and such information is not for the general pubic or the media since such information will only fuel the interests of such groups or people that have proven to be enemies of the United States. The Air Force when reporting the status of the B2 fleet of bombers needs “REPORT” accurate operation readiness STATS because an engine fire that has kept an aircraft on the ground at a forward operating base is NOT a minor incident but an issue that prevents the aircraft from doing the mission it was built and designed to do.…..DROP BOMBS!!!! Let’s hope such deception does not go unpunished and maybe someone in the AF Leadership Chain should have visited the aircraft for a first hand look at what was being called a “minor” repair job.

The last paragraph was very specifically about GSC’s recent problems, so, no. I don’t think that was overly harsh. But if I had written the article, that’s probably what I would have left out, simply for the sake of letting the readers draw their own conclusions.

Dis-regard message above, for some reason i was thinking of the B-1 bomber, my mistake.


@Richard It sounds more serious than just the engine being involved… it doesn’t take a year to pull an engine out and slot a new on in place. What it sounds like to me is a fuel line may have been broke which allowed fire t spread within the body of the plane before being extinguished, which damaged more that just the engine… possibly fire causing heat weakening of the main spar or burning up significant portions of the composite, depending on Where the fire was.

Depot level maintenance with a bird is pretty equivalent to a chassis up restoration on a vintage muscle car, It’s not just changing the tyres, it’s more like stripping the whole thing down to the bare framework and running new wiring and control runs. Swapping out an engine or switching a burnt black box for a new one is not “Equivalent to depot level maintenance”

*** just read your reply to your own post, never mind then, but I’ll post this still as there are others who probably think depot level equates to tyre changing.

I’m surprised that the information was even let out; let alone pictures of the damaged plane were tagged on Google Earth for people to see the amount of damage sustained to the weapon system. I don’t see how one person crying about their inability to get details on secret weapon systems, just so they can break a story and bask in the spotlight, should be a priority over the national defense capability and deterrence factor that the B-2 bombers provide. Honestly, that information should never have gotten out, the potential for an engine design fault to be exploited by a counter aircraft weapon could render the whole fleet vulnerable to something as simple as a low powered energy weapon that specifically targets the engines and causes them to burn out. Seriously, why would you want to jeopardize 20 aircraft at 2 billion a pop, and their capabilities to the potential of an enemy weapon system being specifically designed and fielded for under 100 million, that could render those planes useless. What the hell were they thinking? Doesn’t anyone remember ‘Loose lips sink ships’!

The Air Force handled this correctly…in the interest of OPSEC and national defense.

On a BUFF, with the engines out there on the pylons, you might be right. For an engine, embedded in the fuselage, any sort of engine fire has LOTS of more fragile equipment and structure to effect. Its the cost you pay.… . .

Attention pinhead. The original number to be purchased was 132. Then the Soviet Union broke up and the number was reduced to 75. Then due to cost and no known adversary to use it against, the number was reduced to 21 (AV-1 later converted to production configuration). All of these reductions were made by the people who control the purse strings (Congress) not the AIr Force.

What a dick head you must be.

Now just where did you come from? AF leadership knew exactly what the staus of the jet was. As soon as the NFL starts reporting honestly about their injuries, then the Air Force will as well. Good grief, there are some real dumb asses on this site.

Damn, you figured it out. Low powered energy weapons will be the demise of the B-2 fleet. In what volumn of National Enquirer did you read that bit of news?

As an employee of Northrop Grumman Corporation, I’m quite familiar with the B-2 program and this incident. I’m also quite familiar with a previous incident at Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, that resulted in the Air Force writing off the B-2 “Spirit of Kansas”.

Everyone associated with the B-2 program, at Whiteman AFB, Edwards AFB and Air Force Plant 42 (Palmdale, CA) are true professionals. The pilots, maintainers, support crew and certainly those of us at Northrop Grumman are proud of this aircraft.

We look forward to this important asset of the U.S. Air Force being returned to active service.

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