News & Opinion | June 24, 2018 5:00 am

The Story Behind a Very Expensive Way to Fight ISIS

A tale of a bombing raid in the Libyan desert.

The B-2 stealth bomber is the world’s most exotic strategic aircraft. It is meant to be difficult for air defenses to detect, with radar or other means, but is capable of carrying nearly the same payload as the massive B-52. It came into service in the late 1990s and was mainly used for use in a potential nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Only 21 were built, at $2.1 billion each, before Congress refused to pay for more. But now 19 of them are stationed close to the geographic center of the United States, at the Whiteman Air Force Base. They are still primarily regarded as a nuclear-delivery system, but have flown missions of a different sort over the Korean peninsula, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well.

It had been six years since any B-2 had flown in combat when several of them were loaded with 80 GPS-guided bombs on January 17, 2017. The preparation was hushed and few people knew that something was happening besides a training run. The B-2s were going to Libya. The most expensive and capable tool in the Air Force was deployed against a group of 70 ragtag fighters in the desert, scattered across two camps. The plan was for the B-2s to fly 6,000 miles in order to drop a 500-pound bomb on the fighters. The Atlantic looks into the extraordinarily expensive way to fight ISIS.