March 26, 1999
From Correspondent Jeff Flock
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Missouri (CNN) -- Back when he was a U.S. senator, Defense Secretary William Cohen once criticized the B-2 stealth bomber by saying that sending it into battle would be like dispatching "a Rolls-Royce to pick up groceries in a combat zone."
The radar-evading aircraft that was supposed to cost $270 million ended up costing $2 billion per plane. And the B-2 had maintenance problems and trouble flying in bad weather.
But now, as the bombers return from their first successful missions over Yugoslavia, those who supported the much-maligned, multibillion-dollar B-2 program are saying, "We told you so."
"We have seen that kind of criticism on every major weapons system. And then when we go to war, they work," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Washington, a longtime B-2 supporter.
The Air Force is eager to take advantage of the success of the recent missions, letting reporters get behind the controls of a B-2 simulator as well as up close to the plane.
But the sheer scope of the B-2's cost still raises questions about whether it is really worth the price.
"The plane is currently worth about five times its weight in gold," said Stephen Schwartz, editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and a B-2 critic. "It is stealthy. It's not invisible to radar, but it is very, very difficult to detect. But that comes at an enormous cost."
"Its worth every penny if we save one American life," counters Gen. Michael Ryan, head of the U.S. Air Force.
The Defense Department also insists that the B-2's tremendous bombing capacity helps save on operational costs.
The B-2 can hit 16 separate targets on its own. Without the B-2, hitting 16 targets could have taken 32 bombers, 16 escort jets, four ground defense suppressor planes and 15 tankers to refuel them all, the Defense Department said.
That's 75 aircraft worth a combined $7.5 billion, manned by 147 people, it said, versus just one B-2 with two pilots aboard.
B-2 bombers' home base celebrates stealth combat debut
Air Force Link - Official Web Site of the U. S. Air Force
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