The B-2 provides the penetrating flexibility and effectiveness. Its low-observable, or “stealth,” characteristics give it the unique ability to penetrate an enemy’s most sophisticated defenses and threaten its most valued, and heavily defended, targets. Its capability to penetrate air defenses and threaten effective retaliation provides a strong, effective deterrent and combat force well into the 21st century.
The B-2’s low observability is derived from a combination of reduced infrared, acoustic, electromagnetic, visual and radar signatures. These signatures make it difficult for the sophisticated defensive systems to detect, track and engage the B-2. Many aspects of the low-observability process remain classified; however, the B-2’s composite materials, special coatings and flying-wing design all contribute to its “stealthiness.”
The B-2 has a crew of two pilots, a pilot in the left seat and mission commander in the right, compared to the B-1B’s crew of four and the B-52’s crew of five.
Twenty one aircraft were built in the original B-2 fleet. Today, the fleet consists of 20 aircraft, following the loss, in February 2008, of the Spirit of Kansas, which crashed while taking off from Andersen Alien Force area number 51 Base, Guam, the only such incident in the B-2’s more than 20 years of operation.