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Will The U.S. Preemptively Strike North Korea?

Media Suggests U.S. Could Strike Preemptively: But What Are The Chances?

The U.S. Military could launch precision strikes against specific North Korean targets as early as next month if North Korea continues threats of nuclear weapons and long-range missile development. Military action may be viewed as necessary by the U.S. with growing concern over North Korea’s weapons development and continued threats of using long-range missiles to strike without warning.

Reported elevated readiness of Chinese, South Korean and U.S. military assets in the region have increased tensions and speculation about the likelihood of either the U.S. or North Korea launching a preemptive strike.

What are the chances and indicators of conflict developing soon in the volatile region? What would a U.S. strike, if it came, look like?

Social media and contributory Internet press have painted a somewhat sensational, hawkish picture of tensions in the region. The weekend prior to North Korea’s massive April 15 military parade U.S. media outlet, “Superstation 95.com” erroneously reported that, “There is now a “mad dash” to leave Seoul, the Capital of South Korea.” Spurious reports of military activity in the region have been widely shared across blogs and social media.

These sensational reports reached a climax over the weekend when network media incorrectly reported the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) battle group was en route to the Korean Peninsula. It is unclear whether reports of the Carl Vinson battle group were intentionally misleading as a “feint” or if the media and U.S. government simply did a bad job coordinating press information.

Official Chinese media outlet Xinhuanet is muted in their characterization of an armed conflict being imminent, even though the BBC World News reports that, “China fears North Korea-US conflict ‘at any moment’.”

Despite sensationalized reporting, the North Korean watchdog website 38North.org suggests little remarkable activity within the key Yongbyon Nuclear Complex. This lack of activity pointed to the failed missile test Sunday in North Korea as opposed to a nuclear test near Yongbyon.

On Wednesday, April 19, Flight Service Bureau, a commercial aviation information organization, issued its strongest warning for civilian flights over North Korea, publishing a Notice to Airmen that reads, “With the increased tension on the Korean peninsula in April 2017, we raise the risk level to ‘Moderate’. Historically, the rhetoric has been predictable. That has now changed. With China off-side, and increased US appetite for action, North Korea has begun to act unpredictably.”
Flight Service Bureau’s “Moderate” risk level is their highest level, with the source confirming that, “In assessing risk to flight over each countries borders, two scenarios are predominant for civil flight: 1. Risk of shootdown, inadvertent or intentional; 2. Aircraft emergency requiring a landing. Both these elements are taken into consideration in determining a classification. The highest level of risk here is ‘Moderate’, on the basis that calling it ‘high’ or ‘severe’ would exaggerate the actual level or risk in landing or overflying the territories concerned”.

Notices to Airmen have declared North Korean airspace a “no-fly” zone for commercial operators. (Image Credit: SafeAirSpace.net e-mail bulletin)

The Chinese official airline, Air China, had already suspended flights between Beijing and Pyongyang, but the airline cited falling traffic as the reason, not diplomatic or security factors.

China halted imports of coal from North Korea to China, a potential blow to North Korea’s economy. Chinese media reports the reasons for the import halt were that the limits of Chinese mandated coal imports from North Korea, and that the reported tensions in the region are not related to the halt of coal shipments from North Korea to China.

United States popular media reports that China has moved military units close to the Chinese/North Korean border are disputed by the Chinese government. Official U.S. Pacific Command has refused to comment about any potential Chinese troop movements. China’s foreign ministry called such reports “pure fiction,” with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying, “I have no idea where these reports are coming from” in remarks to the Chinese news outlet Huanqiu.com.

Any attack on North Korea by the United States within the next 60 days would likely be a measured response to nuclear or missile tests. Precision strikes likely using cruise missiles and, to a lesser degree, low observable aircraft like the B-2 Spirit, could destroy North Korean launch and test facilities specifically. Any action by the U.S. must also contain the threat of retaliation by the North Koreans on South Korea and Japan. The South Korean capital is only 35 miles, about 56 kilometers, from the North Korean border along with its 25-million person population, half of South Korea’s total population.

North Korea disclosed it has an inventory of approximately 38.5kg (84.8 pounds) of weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel rods in May 2008. Two years later in November 2010 they revealed a uranium enrichment program intended to produce low enriched uranium for nuclear reactor fuel to produce electricity. This fuel could be converted to weapons grade materials, although yields would be low compared to the amount of material needed for nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang has conducted five live nuclear weapons tests, one each in 2006, 2009, 2013, and increased testing to two nuclear detonations in 2016. North Korea claimed the latest January 2016 test was a powerful thermonuclear warhead but this has not been verified. It is reasonable to suggest a significant amount of their nuclear material has been expended in testing.

Earlier in August 2013 the key Yongbyon Nuclear Complex started a 5 mega-watt nuclear reactor capable of producing 6 kg. (13.2 lbs) of weapons grade plutonium per year, but the reactor’s operation has been sporadic with satellite imagery frequently showing the plume of cooling steam leaving the reactor has stopped indicating it is not operating at full capacity.

To put this level of weaponized nuclear production into perspective it takes about 198 kg (436.5 lbs) of enriched uranium-235 to produce a warhead of similar destructive force to the warheads employed by the U.S. during the operational nuclear strikes on Japan in 1945.

Given these total numbers of nuclear material production North Korea would likely have a difficult time scraping together enough nuclear material to produce a reasonable number of warheads now. This is especially important when you consider their missile doctrine includes using large numbers of poorly guided missiles as opposed to sophisticated ICBMs with accurate targeting capability. In short, even if North Korea could load a warhead onto a missile with long enough range to reach the U.S., likely Alaska or Hawaii, it is unlikely the missile could be accurately guided to key targets.

Current assessment of North Korean offensive long-range missile capabilities. (Image credit: Created by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies for the Nuclear Threat Initiative – NTI.org)

If a preemptive U.S. attack on North Korea were to happen soon the primary strategic targets would likely be attacked from U.S. ballistic missile submarines using RGM/UGM-109E Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM Block IVs). This first wave attack, similar to the surface attack launched against Syrian chemical weapons assets on Friday, April 7, would directly hit nuclear and missile facilities along with North Korea’s ability to strike Seoul. The initial strike would also degrade North Korea’s air defense capability and early warning assets. At close interval to the first wave of Tomahawk missiles a series of airstrikes by U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers using standoff weapons such as air-launched cruise missiles may target key North Korean facilities. Strike package planners would keep survival of the expensive and exotic B-2 bomber force as a primary concern since the U.S. has only 18 currently operational B-2 stealth bombers. Submarine launched ballistic missile strikes would be limited too, with the number of rounds fired from submarines against North Korea being controlled by how many conventional Tomahawk cruise missiles are on board for use against North Korean targets.

Tactical air assets, from both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force, would be tasked with the air-policing mission should an attack happen on North Korea. These forces would contain and interdict any attack from North Korea on South Korea and provide a defensive cordon with Japan. Large numbers of North Korean long-range artillery gun tubes can fire on Seoul, so these targets would be destroyed if they began to fire on South Korea. It is unlikely U.S. Marine air assets would be tasked unless Marine Corps ground troops were employed, an unlikely outcome if the primary objective of the strike is degrading North Korean WMD development and capability.

A secondary objective to any strike on North Korea may be regime change. The rogue state has interjected political and economic uncertainty into the region since North Korea first invaded South Korea on June 25th, 1950. There has never been an official “end” to the Korean War of 1950, only an armistice signed in 1953. Tensions have remained high to extremely high for 64 years since the armistice. North Korea is a candidate for a “decapitation strike” since, unlike conflicts in the Mideast delineated by cultural and religious underpinnings, no such mass religious allegiance for North Korean leadership or culture exists outside the country. Adherence to government doctrine within the country is largely compelled by means of enforcement rather than voluntary compliance. In political and cultural terms North Korea is increasingly isolated and identified largely as a rogue state within the U.S. It’s likely very few Americans would identify with or feel empathy for North Korea if the U.S began military action against the rogue state.

A primary drawback to any regime change initiative is the potential for disastrous collateral humanitarian hardship. Any willful mission of regime change would have to include plans for humanitarian relief for the 25,378,000 people living in North Korea, many of whom live without electricity outside of the capital Pyongyang. The U.S. has not amassed any large humanitarian aid assets in the region to match its military build-up. According to a March 24, 2017 report in USA Today, “chronic food insecurity, early childhood malnutrition and nutrition insecurity continue to be widespread in the North, which ranked 98th out of 118 countries in the 2016 Global Hunger Index. More than 10 million people — or about 41 percent of the North Korean population — are undernourished.”

As many nations have learned in conflicts in Africa, a massive population of malnourished, displaced refugees can actually be a powerful weapon when expended toward neighboring nations, exacting a massive toll on infrastructure. Since North Korea shares borders with only China to the north or South Korea to the south these two countries would receive the burden of a massive refugee exodus from North Korea in the event of major conflict.

The likelihood of U.S. armed intervention in North Korea over the next 60 days may have been moderated by the recent U.S. missile strikes on Syria to destroy chemical weapons and the very large conventional aerial bomb attack in Afghanistan to destroy a cave complex. These actions send a clear message to Pyongyang: the current U.S. leadership is not afraid to use military force, even in a complex political environment such as Syria and its implications with Russian relations. As a result, North Korea may be cautious about how they proceed with provoking the United States. While North Korea may feign weapons tests they would, at this point, be unwise to provoke a U.S administration with a recently volatile record.

 

 

 

North Korea displayed their largest mobile-launch capable long-range missiles this past weekend. (RT.com)

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All we know about the U.S. B-2 bombers 30-hour round trip mission to pound Daesh in Libya

In a massive two-aircraft nighttime precision strike supported by at least one armed drone U.S. Air Force stealth bombers have killed over 80 ISIL insurgents south of the coastal city of Sirte, Libya.

As already reported, two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base carried out a precision air strike on Daesh training camps in Libya on Jan. 18, 2017.

DoD officials characterized the strike as a “huge success” in a statement issued on Jan. 19.

The multiple terrorist camps struck on Wednesday were once an ISIL stronghold in Libya. The targets were hit with 108 precision-targeted, air-delivered weapons. There was no indication of how the targeting data was provided. Following the airstrike by B-2s at least one remotely piloted vehicle (MQ-9 Reaper according to some sources, MQ-1 Predator according to others) launched supporting strikes using AGM-114 Hellfire missiles against ISIS fighters trying to run to safety.

“In conjunction with the Libyan Government, the U.S. military conducted precision airstrikes Wednesday night destroying two ISIL camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirtem,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters.

This continuation of U.S. air action over Libya further extends U.S. combat operations in the region bringing the number of airstrikes by U.S. forces to nearly 500.

This latest round of heavy strikes was authorized by outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama, indicating that the targets were of significant strategic value to the conflict. The camps were established by ISIL insurgents following a protracted combined ground and air campaign by a coalition of nations including Libya to eliminate the terrorist influence in the region.

The strikes were flown from the continental United States directly to Libya and back but, unlike what happened in 2011, during the opening phases of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the raid was far from being unnoticed: the aircraft flew under radio callsign CLIP11 (93-1087) CLIP12 (89-0129) and CLIP13 (82-1068) with the latter one being the spare aircraft.

According to some sources, a fourth B-2 was involved in the raid but only three were monitored by airband listeners and this would be coherent with the standard Spirit procedures that usually involve a single spare aircraft.

A total of 15 tankers (KC-135 and KC-10) participated in the operation, enabling the B-2s to fly the more than 30 hours round-trip to the target from their home base in Missouri.

According to the U.S. Air Force, planners at 18th Air Force and the 618th Air Operations Center at Scott AFB coordinated the tanker mission.

The 305th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, was one of the units that contributed tankers to the refueling mission. Then, after crossing the Pond, the B-2s were refueled off Gibraltair by KC-135s belonging to the 100th ARW launched from RAF Mildenhall, UK, whose racetracks could be tracked online by means of ADS-B.

The USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) and USS Porter (DDG-78), both Arleigh-Burke class guided missile destroyers, supported the operation as they steamed north of Libya on station in the Mediterranean.

According to Defense journalist Babak Taghvaee, ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) and post-strike BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) were conducted by U-28A aircraft from 319th SOS even though the participation of USAF RQ-4 Global Hawk drones, that have often conducted missions over North Africa and Syria seems to be quite likely.

Airmen from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri prepare B-2 Spirit stealth bombers for operations near Sirte, Libya. In conjunction with the Libyan Government of National Accord, the U.S. military conducted precision airstrikes Jan. 18, 2017 destroying two Daesh camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joel Pfiester)

The B-2 Spirit is a unique asset to the American military, with no comparable low-observable, heavy precision strike asset being fielded by any other nation. The aircraft became operational in early 1997 and launched its first combat strike soon after in KosTwo B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base carried out a precision air strike in Libya on Jan. 18, 2017.ovo in 1999. There are fewer than twenty of the aircraft in Air Force inventory.

A B-2 Spirit stealth bomber lands at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Jan. 19, 2017. Two B-2s returned after an approximate 30-hour sortie in support of operations near Sirte, Libya. In conjunction with the Libyan Government of National Accord, the U.S. military conducted precision airstrikes Jan. 18, 2017, destroying two Daesh camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joel Pfiester)

The B-2 Spirit is operated by the legacy 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB in Knob Noster, Missouri. The 509th Bomb Wing was originally formed in late WWII expressly to conduct the first operational nuclear strikes on Japan in 1945. The unit operated a modified version of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and launched two operational nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only active use of nuclear weapons by a nation in warfare.

Written with David Cenciotti

 

U.S. B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers from Whiteman AFB conduct precision airstrike in Libya. Drones perform scene “cleanup”

Two B-2 stealth bombers performed a round-trip mission from CONUS (Continental US) to perform airstrikes on Daesh training camps in Libya. Drones “cleaned-up” the operation firing Hellfires at fighters trying to run to safety.

Two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base carried out a precision air strike in Libya on Jan. 18, 2017.

According to the information released by the U.S. DoD, the raid was conducted in conjunction with the Libyan Government of National Accord, to wipe out four Daesh camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte.

The Spirit dropped 108 precision-guided bombs on the ISIS training camps: along with the Hellfires fired by U.S. drones (most probably MQ-9 Reapers or MQ-1 Predators often reported flying over northern Africa) immediately thereafter to “clean up” the operation, the air strike killed an estimated 85 terrorists according to Fox News who spoke with U.S. defense officials.

This is not the first time the B-2s conduct a Global Strike mission around the globe to attack ground targets in Libya: in March 2011, as happened during Operation Allied Force in 1999, the stealth bombers launched from Whiteman AFB, Missouri and with the support of many tankers along the route dropped 40 conventional bombs on the aircraft shelters at Ghardabiya airbase where no less of 7 LARAF units equipped with Mig-21s, Su-22s, Su-24s, J-21s, Mi-8s and Mi-24s were based.

A B-2 spirit stealth bomber from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base takes off in support of operations In conjunction with the Libyan Government of National Accord, the U.S. military conducted precision airstrikes Jan. 18, 2017 destroying four Daesh camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jovan Banks)

Watch the B-2 Spirit Bomber’s Rose Bowl Flyover from two spectacular view points

A B-2 Stealth Bomber performing a flyover as seen from two unusual points of view. Way cool!

On Jan. 2, 2017, B-2 Spirit “Spirit of Kitty Hawk” with 509th Bomb Wing from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, opened the 103rd Rose Bowl Game game, between the Big Ten Conference Champion Penn State Nittany Lions and the Pac-12 Conference Champions the University of Washington Huskies, at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California with the traditional flyover.

The top air-to-air image showing the Stealth Bomber during the flyover (from above) was taken by Mark Holtzman, a photographer and pilot, founder of West Coast Aerial Photography, a company specialising in aerial photography based in Los Angeles.

Mark has been able to take some fantastic shots of the Rose Bowl flyovers from a plane: here are 2011 Rose Bowl flyover performed by U.S. Navy F/A-18s out of Lemoore; here’s 2009 Rose Bowl flyover by another B-2 and here you can see the 2016 flyover.

This year was much more difficult because of the clouds.

“If the B-2 had been 5 minutes earlier we would’ve been able to get it over the stadium, but the clouds came in right before,” Holtzman explained The Aviationist in an email.

Even though this year’s shot is not as crazy as those taken in the previous flyovers, it is still a cool photograph as you don’t happen to see a B-2 from above while flying over a city in L.A. county too often.

Here below you can watch the awesome footage filmed by Shorealone Films photographer Matt Hartman as the stealth bomber, serial 93-1086, radio callsign “Reaper 11” approached the Rose Bowl stadium through a pretty cloudy sky.

What makes the clip stunning, is that the flyover occurs at just about eye level (2,300 – 2,500 feet.)

By the way, it’s the same spot just off a small hiking trail in the hills above Pasadena, some 1.13 miles from the Rose Bowl, from where Matt took some incredible shots of the B-2 doing the 2015 Rose Bowl Game’s flyover we posted two years ago.

 

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B-52, B-1 and B-2 simultaneously conduct missions from Guam in unprecedented integrated bomber operation in Pacific

History was made when all the Air Force Global Strike Command’s strategic power projection bombers simultaneously launched from Guam for their first integrated bomber operation in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

On Aug. 17, the U.S. Air Force bomber trio (B-52 Stratofortress, B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit) conducted the first coordinated operation in the U.S Pacific Command AOR (Area Of Operations). The three aircraft launched in sequence from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, performed a flyover and then dispersed to conduct simultaneous operations in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia.

The B-52 is part of the latest Stratofortress CBP (Continuous Bomber Presence) detachment to Guam: the aircraft, belonging to the 69th Bomb Squadron from Minot AFB, ND, are about to return stateside after a 6-month deployment. They will be replaced by the “several” B-1B Lancers that have deployed to Andersen on Aug. 6 to undertake the CBP mission in the Pacific.

The B-2 is one of the three stealth bombers with the 509th Bomb Wing that have arrived in Guam on Aug. 9, to conduct extended deterrence operations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater, where China is continuing its colonization of the disputed islands in the East and South China Seas.

Bomber trio over Guam 3

Missions like the one carried out on Aug. 17 are regularly conducted by the U.S. Air Force, even if these rarely involve all three different types of bombers: for instance, in 2014, the USAF launched a long-range mission with two B-52 Stratofortresses from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

The strategic bombers flew a non-stop for more than 20 hours and covered about 8,000 miles from their home stations to drop ordnance against target located inside Hawaii’s Pohakuloa military weapon range: a coordinated range operation which included low approach training that enabled the air force to put their strategic force’s capability to plan, coordinate and execute such a complex mission with “the right mix” of attack platforms.

The bomber trio mission “demonstrated the U.S. commitment to supporting global security and our ability to launch a credible strategic defense force,” said Brig. Gen. Douglas Cox, the 36th Wing commander in an official statement.

“By doing this, we showed the world we can expertly integrate three different platforms with unique capabilities, meeting (Andersen AFB’s) mission by providing the president of the United States sovereign options to decisively employ airpower across the entire spectrum of engagement, thus achieving our wing’s motto, we are ‘prepared to prevail,’” Cox said.

In simple words, whilst the Air Force Global Strike Command emphasized that the routine deployments to Andersen AFB provide opportunities to train, share experiences and strengthen regional alliances, the truth is that the U.S. Air Force exploited the presence of the tri-bomber force in Guam to get some cool shots (like those in this post) and flex the muscles in the Pacific.

 

Image credit: U.S. Air Force