Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the US Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. The B-2 is a low-observable, strategic, long-range, heavy bomber capable of penetrating sophisticated and dense air-defence shields. It is capable of all-altitude attack missions up to 50,000ft, with a range of more than 6,000nm unrefuelled and more than 10,000nm with one refuelling, giving it the ability to fly to any point in the world within hours. Its distinctive profile comes from the unique 'flying wing' construction. The leading edges of the wings are angled at 33 degrees and the trailing edge has a double-W shape. It is manufactured at the Northrop Grumman facilities in Pico Rivera and Palmdale in California.
21 B-2s have been delivered to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, the first in December 1993. In the first three years of service, the operational B-2s achieved a sortie reliability rate of 90%. An assessment published by the USAF showed that two B-2s armed with precision weaponry can do the job of 75 conventional aircraft.
A new transportable hangar system has been developed which allows the B-2 to be deployed to forward locations overseas. The hangars are 126ft long, 250ft wide and 55ft high. The first of these hangars has been erected on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Prior to this development, B-2s have had to return to Whiteman AFB after missions, for maintenance of the aircraft's stealth features. The B-2 was thus deployed for the first time during Operation Iraqi Freedom in March/April 2003. In March 2005, a B-2 squadron was deployed for the first time to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam in support of the USAF Pacific Command.
Northrop Grumman has developed a new radar-absorbent coating to preserve the B-2's stealth characteristics while drastically reducing maintenance time. The new material, known as Alternate High-Frequency Material (AHFM), is sprayed on by four independently controlled robots.
The B-2, after ten years of service, finally achieved full operational capability in December 2003.
The B-2 bomber was able to bomb a target witout getting detected by radar