In a stunning display of stealth power, eight B-2 Spirit stealth bombers of the US Air Force recently executed an elephant walk and subsequent fly-off at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, during the Spirit Vigilance 22 training exercise.
In a statement, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs said that the only operational B-2 base in Whiteman, where the 509th and 131st Bomb Wings participated, saw the conclusion of the Spirit Vigilance exercises on November 7.
The US Air Force currently operates only 20 B-2s; thus, the eight aircraft that took part in the elephant walk and follow-up fly-off account for 40% of all B-2s currently in service.
The Whiteman Air Force Base posted a short video of B-2 bombers performing an elephant walk on its Facebook page.
The fundamental purpose of elephant walks is to show that a base and its constituent units are ready and can quickly launch large numbers of aircraft in a crisis.
Even while the US military has been conducting more of these training exercises lately, bombers are much less frequently seen taking part in them. The Air Force Global Strike Command’s bomb wings often hold training and readiness drills, one of which is the Spirit Vigilance exercise.
The Vigilance series is a set of routinely scheduled, multi-annual exercises designed to assess and improve American deterrence capabilities continuously. It also meant to increase the lethality and readiness of the Airmen who assist and carry out the mission of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.
“We are displaying a capability here to rapidly generate and deploy [the B-2] under greater scrutiny and time restraints than the normal day-to-day flying mission,” said Capt. Richard Collier, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron director of operations of the Spirit Vigilance exercise. “Here, we demonstrate to our near-peer adversaries, as well as to ourselves, how well we can perform.”
Nevertheless, the exercise also serves as a reminder that the B-2 Spirit bomber is a powerful leg of the US nuclear triad. According to the US Air Force, the B-2 is the most strategic aircraft and the only one with stealth, payload, and long-range attack capability.
A Message To Adversaries?
The service pointed out that the B-2’s role in deterrence becomes more crucial as the National Defense Strategy changes and emphasizes major power competition between the United States and its near-peers.
That implies that the B-2 is meant to send a message to prospective enemies, including China, who recently carried out its own bomber elephant walk. China’s primary long-range bomber is the H-6, a domestically produced derivative of the Soviet-era Tu-16 Badger.
Geolocated HD video of 🇨🇳 PLAAF H-6K(G)s at Leiyang AB (26.586451, 112.892227). 8 H-6K(G)s participate in an elephant walk, which POV reveal other bombers on apron without shelters.
— Evergreen Intel (@vcdgf555) November 26, 2022
The B-2 stands in complete contrast to the eight H-6Ks used in the elephant walk. The H-6K is one of the newest and most capable missile-carrier versions of the H-6.
That being said, Beijing is developing the H-20, a successor to the H-6, which is anticipated to have more in common with the B-2 in terms of design. On the other hand, the US is also developing a successor, the B-21 Raider, which is expected to be unveiled shortly.
However, it will take years to induct the B-21 officially into the USAF bomber fleet.
Meanwhile, amid escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, there have been reports that the B-2’s recent spectacular demonstration was meant to send a specific message to North Korea.
Earlier, the US had sent four B-2 bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri’s 509th Bomb Wing, to Australia to assist a Pacific Air Forces Bomber Task Force. While the second group of B-2s arrived on July 12, the first two landed at Amberley on July 10.
Given that B-2 bombers are one of the three components of the US nuclear triad, the USAF’s expanding presence of nuclear-capable B-2s in the Indo-Pacific sends a powerful message to its adversaries.
Moreover, the message couldn’t have come at a better time when the tensions in the Indo-pacific are at an all-time high due to growing Chinese military exercises in the waters around Taiwan and an uptick in North Korean missile tests.