Why are B2 bombers so expensive?

Alright, I’ve been quoted $1 000 000 000 (a billion/milliard dollars) as the cost of a B2 bomber.

If this is true (which might be my first question: is it?), what is the breakdown of the costs? These can be very general, but I’m curious as to what makes them so bloody expensive. Millions, I can understand, but a billion?


They actually cost about $2B each, IIRC. Why so expensive?

A) They’re made of “stealthy stuff.”
B) That “stealthy stuff” is caviar.
C) Supply and demand.
Sorry, couldn’t resist.

It was very expensive to develop, and then the Air Force only bought 21. The less you buy, the more the unit cost rises to cover the costs of development.

I’m sure the above explanation is insufficient and perhaps outright wrong, but it’s a start in the right direction. :slight_smile:

Unit cost: Average $2.1B
The U.S. General Accounting Office has done a detailed analysis of the cost of the B-1, which is available here. Some factors that are involved:

  1. Fewer B-1’s than originally planned for were purchased, increasing the unit cost.
  2. The “flying wing” shape is aerodynamically complex and unstable. This resulted in high development expenditures. It also caused a lengthened testing and development cycle.
  3. The delays in the development and testing cycle caused cost overruns.
  4. The coatings and surface materials are “exotic”, and fabrication is difficult and expensive. Maintenance is also difficult and expensive.
  5. The control system requires sophisticated, redundant computer controls, in part due to the aerodynamics and in part because of the small crew (2).

A lot of the money is development costs averaged over the bombers produced. If they produced more, then the unit price would have come down.

Undersecretary of Defense for Something or Other Norman Augustine plotted the cost of fighter aircraft from WWI to the time he proposed his Law. Then by curve fitting he predicted that by about 2050 the cost of one plane would equal the entire gross national product of the US.

Okay, so what does a B2 cost when you don’t figure in development costs?

Anyone who sez they know is a liar. Classified. The DOD budget is, in reality, very, very sketchy, since so much is classified and the actual budget released is totally false. We can’t have the Bad Men knowing what the four-star freakshows hiding in Mount Weather bought (with yer money)

lots of this “$2 billion plane, $600 toilet seat” stuff isn’t a scam, or a boondoggle, but a cover for… well, we don’t know. That’s the whole point.

I hop its not for space-based x-ray lasers that destroy those who ask impertinent questions about the military budget.

Do you have any proof that a B-2 doesn’t actually cost $2 billion, ** 'possum stalker **? I would really like to see a cite.

they cost so much because nothing is off the shelf. if I told you to make a can of mountain dew from scratch you could easly get THAT up to a billion dollar investment as well if everything was basicly from scratch. (think about it… building a can factory… makeing a factory to produce each of the ingredients. ). anything you do from scratch is going to cost very very much.

Because its payed for with “tax dollars” and people always spend “tax dollars” a lot more freely than their own dollars

Its the way of the world

According to this page (which I can’t vouch for):

Yeah, but it will be able to deploy the entire US military at any time, unlesh any (or all) exp;losives in our arsenal on any select sqaure inch in the world at any time, and it will be a STEALTH aircraft. :wink:

This trend to fewer, more capable, more expensive weapons raises a problem - they can start to become a liability rather than an asset. It happened previously with the great battleships, before and during WWI they were the “must have” uber-weapon, by WWII they consumed huge resources and became such valuable targets to the enemy they were effectively worse than useless.

Planes are in danger of going the same way, in WWI (IIRC) a fighter cost the same as a large shell (hence the practice of launching them from a ship they couldn’t land back on - and ditching on return). Now planes cost an astronomical figure - and take decades to develop.

Yes they are vastly more capable, but the small numbers deployed and the problems of replacing them (no-one’s going to be building anymore B2s) risks amplifying their loss way beyond just the financial cost. I seem to recall that B2 missions have already been vetoed on those grounds - but an asset that is too valuable to use soon ceases to have any value

Most of the figures you mention were available before the WTC bombing or the advent of GW and his crew of secrecy freaks, so I know that you don’t know what you are talking about.

DOD contracts are public documents with the total amount of money and what is to be bought clearly stated. There are exceptions for so-called “black” programs which, to me, is bothersome. Even before GW the number of such programs was slowly creeping up the scale. I haven’t been in DOD for a long time now and I would suppose that since 11 September and GW the number has increased.

Even top secret programs are subject to review by closed committee hearings in Congress. I think that “black” programs are an invitation to abuse. However, we have to trust the Congress to keep such abuses to a tolerable level.

Of course, if you snort and say that Congress is just a different bunch of crooks then we have a more serious problem that fraud in military budgets since Congress is the expression of our system of representative government. Saying that Congress is a fraud is questioning our fundamental method of government and military fraud sort fades into the background by comparison.

Because of the elerium-115 power cores, naturally.

Back in college, one of my professors in Materials Science actually worked on the stealth material for the B2 bombers. He told us why B2’s are such a pain in the ass to maintain. The reason is that the radar-reflecting material is highly hydrophilic – that is, it absorbs water very easily. When the planes fly, air friction causes the plane’s surface to heat up to very high temperatures. This causes the water that’s absorbed into the stealth material to boil away, which causes blisters in the material. These blisters make the plane more visible to radar. The blisters have to be repaired after every flight, lest the plane lose its stealthiness. And of course these repairs ain’t cheap. The humidity in the atmosphere is quite enough to cause this degradation, so there’s really nothing that they can do about the problem.

The high maintenance costs are why the air force doesn’t want any more of them. There are also rumors that the stealth material doesn’t work as well as they say it does, but my professor didn’t say anything about that.

I work for a defense contractor, and am thus familiar with the dreaded “defense death spiral”.

The spiral begins when a program is originally funded to develop a new piece of military hardware with an initial run. Research and development costs are factored into this bid, which is eventually granted to a contractor.

Sometimes, though, for budgetary reasons, the number of units in the initial run will need to be trimmed. The solution in an ideal world would be to shift some of these units to the follow-on prodection runs, pay for them in another budgetary cycle and continue production so the military’s needs are met. In practice, though, this has not been happening.

What has been happening is that so-called congressional “watchdogs” will howl about the skyrocketing per-unit cost of the item in question, and demand that the military buy fewer of them. That raises the per unit cost still higher (remember, the item in question is now in production. That R&D money has already been spent). The watchdogs will break out their best bake-sale rhetoric and demand still further cuts in production.

The death spiral has begun, and the military will soon get too few units of too expensive gear.

It’s all that cavorite they need to make them fly.

Diceman, that sounds familiarly similar to what I remember being told about the F-117 at Holloman. That the normal stresses and wear-and-tear of flight removes and/or damages the stealth coating so it has to be replaced after every flight it’s used. Isn’t it basically a paint?