An Extraordinarily Expensive Way to Fight ISIS

William Langewiesche in The Atlantic:

The B-2 stealth bomber is the world’s most exotic strategic aircraft, a subsonic flying wing meant to be difficult for air defenses to detect—whether by radar or other means—yet capable of carrying nearly the same payload as the massive B-52. It came into service in the late 1990s primarily for use in a potential nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and clearly as a first-strike weapon rather than a retaliatory one. First-strike weapons have destabilizing, not deterrent, effects. It is probably just as well that the stealth bomber was not quite as stealthy as it was meant to be, and was so expensive—at $2.1 billion each—that only 21 were built before Congress refused to pay for more. Nineteen of them are now stationed close to the geographic center of the contiguous United States, in the desolate farmland of central Missouri, at Whiteman Air Force Base. They are part of the 509th Bomb Wing, and until recently were commanded by Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets IV, whose grandfather dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. B-2 bombers are still primarily regarded as a nuclear-delivery system, meaning that their crews are by selection the sort of men and women capable of defining success as a precisely flown sortie at the outset of mass annihilation. No one should doubt that, if given the order to launch a nuclear attack, these crews would carry it out. In the meantime, they have occasionally flown missions of a different sort—make-work projects such as saber rattling over the Korean peninsula, and the opening salvos in Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq—to tactical advantage without American discomfort.

Such was the state of affairs in the small hours of the morning at Whiteman on January 17, 2017, during the last days of the Obama administration. Six years had passed since any B-2 had flown in combat. But now, in the privacy of their bespoke, climate-controlled, single-occupancy hangars, several of them had been loaded with 80 GPS-guided bombs for use against enemies who had been spotted on the ground in a faraway country. The preparations had been hushed: Relatively few people on the base, even among those assembling and loading the bombs, knew that this was something other than a training run.

More here.