The U.S. Air Force is trying to see whether the F-35 Lightning II and the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber can successfully operate together in simulated contested skies during a multi-aircraft training exercise that includes night flying
The Air Force is currently conducting Exercise Agile Tiger at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri for the bomber wing there to better integrate the B-2 Spirit with the F-35 and other aircraft.
Six F-35A Lightning II warplanes from Hill Air Force Base, Utah have flown into Whiteman and are taking part in the drills. The Air Force believes it is time to practice a ωɑɾ scenario in which the F-35 will support bombers in combat.
Stand-off Missiles Are Becoming More Prevalent
One likely aspect of the training will be the simulated use of stand-off missiles fired from the B-2. The ωɑɾ in Ukraine has shown the world that stand-off missiles fired from airplanes represent the current operating environment of modern conflict. The Russians are usually staying out of range of Ukrainian air defenses and firing air-to-ground missiles, even hypersonic ωεɑρσռs, at targets in Ukraine.
The United States is likely to incorporate these stand-off tactics into their use of bombers such as the B-2. This might include the F-35 maintaining an escort role that can help clear the airspace for the bombers to operate at maximum efficiency when delivering their ordnance to targets. Exercise Agile Tiger could be a proving ground for these tactics.
In a March exercise, two American B-2 bombers were escorted by three Norwegian F-35 fighter jets over Iceland and the North Atlantic. So, it appears the Air Force wants to explore how a B-2 and F-35 pairing will work out.
The B-2 can deliver conventional and nuclear munitions. It has a range of 6,000 nautical miles from their home at Whiteman AFB and 10,000 nautical miles with an aerial re-fueling. It can fly 680-miles an hour with a maximum altitude of 50,000-feet.
The B-2 Can Be Equipped with Stand-off Missiles
The B-2 can carry 40,000 pounds of ωεɑρσռs. The Air Force estimates that “two B-2s armed with precision ωεɑρσռry can do the role of 75-conventional aircraft.” It currently supports the AGM-154 Joint Standoff ധҽąքօղ. For other standoff attacks, the Spirit can launch the AGM-158 Joint Air Surface Standoff Missile. The B-2 will carry the Long Range Standoff nuclear cruise missile when it enters service.
The B-2 and F-35 pairing is one that can be practiced around the globe as more and more F-35s are being sold to U.S. allies. While the B-2 ordinarily drops bombs, it could someday have the capability to launch a nuclear-tipped cruise missile and this stand-off attack is something the Air Force wants to rehearse for future conflict in the Indo-Pacific and perhaps the European theater.