Two US Air Force B-2 Spirit bombers killed at least 80 fighters across Libya on 19 January, marking the stealth aircraft's first combat mission since 2011.
Together with the interim Libyan government, the bombers destroyed two Islamic State camps 45km southwest of Sirte, according to the air force. The two bombers launched over 100 Boeing GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions and USAF MQ-9 Reapers employed Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missiles following the initial strike, a service spokesman says. Each B-2 has the capacity to carry 80 226kg (500lb) JDAMs or an equivalent 18,100kg payload.
The Northrop Grumman B-2’s ability to loiter over an area for long periods of time, carry massive amounts of ordnance and multiple strikes at once made the aircraft ideal for the mission over Libya, the USAF says.
The Spirit of Pennsylvania and the Spirit of Georgia took off from Whiteman Air Base, Missouri for a 34h round-trip mission. Fifteen aerial refueling aircraft accompanied the bombers during an air bridge from the US to Libya, with multiple refuelings throughout the mission, a USAF spokesman says.
The USAF has 20 B-2s in its fleet and the recent strike on ISIL marks the aircraft’s fifth combat operation. The B-2 flew its last combat mission in March 2011, when three bombers struck the Libyan air force as part of a multilateral enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya. During Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, the bomber dropped 45 920kg GBU-31 JDAMs on hardened aircraft shelters, destroying aircraft inside.
The B-2 conducted its first combat mission in March 1999 when it struck Serbian targets in Kosovo. The bomber emerged again in the opening hours of the US “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq and as one of the first aircraft to attack Taliban targets in Afghanistan following attacks on New York and Washington DC on 11 September 2001.