The United States recently conducted a successful test launch of the stealthy long-range cruise missile, known as the JASSM-ER, from the payload bay of an airborne B-2 Spirit, coupling the world’s only operational stealth bomber with a significant new capability. The test was first announced by Northrop Grumman last week, though the firing itself took place last December.
With the B-21 Raider cruising toward service later this decade, America’s fleet of B-2s may be slated for retirement in the not-too-distant future, but it is still picking up advanced new capabilities in the meantime.
“The unrivaled capabilities of the B-2 make it the only long range, penetrating stealth bomber currently in the U.S. arsenal,” said Shaugnessy Reynolds, vice president and B-2 program manager for Northrop Grumman.
“Committed to continued modernization of the B-2, we’re leveraging our company’s innovation in digital engineering and its decades of leadership in designing and maintaining low observable platforms to keep the B-2 Spirit mission ready,” he added
The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit is America’s (and the world’s) first operational heavy payload stealth bomber. It first took flight in 1989 and entered service in 1997. Contrary to popular belief, stealth fighters like the F-35 and F-22 are not particularly difficult to detect using low-frequency early-warning radar arrays. However, these arrays, which can often spot a stealth fighter, lack the image fidelity required to actually target an aircraft, even when you know it’s there.
The stealthy flying wing design of the B-2 Spirit, on the other hand, is exceedingly difficult to detect even for those low-frequency arrays, making it arguably the stealthiest operational aircraft in service today, despite its age.
Why launching a stealthy cruise missile from the B-2 matters
The combination of this low-observable bomber platform and the AGM-158B JASSM-ER, or Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range, makes for an even more potent one-two punch of stealthy firepower.
The JASSM-ER is the latest iteration of the JASSM to enter service. It’s a low-observable, subsonic cruise missile with a range of at lest 575 miles. This allows launch platforms to fire the missile from well outside the range of most air defense systems. When coupled with a stealthy launch platform like the B-2, the JASSM-ER could potentially be used to engage even the most heavily defended targets while minimizing the risk to bomber crews.
The B-2 has also seen other updates as of late, including the implementation of the Air Force’s new Radar Aided Targeting System (RATS), which aids in the targeting of nuclear weapons even when access to GPS satellites is being impeded.