WASHINGTON -- The B-2 stealth bomber has radar that cannot distinguish a rain cloud from a mountainside, has not passed most of its basic tests and may not be nearly as stealthy as advertised, according to a draft report by the General Accounting Office.
The draft report by the independent auditing agency of Congress began circulating Friday in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, as Congress considered proposals for additional financing to build new B-2s.
It was provided to the New York Times by a government official skeptical of the bomber's capabilities, who sought to make its examples of the B-2's inability to pass performance hurdles a part of the debate.
"Air Force officials told us," the auditors reported, that "the B-2 radar cannot distinguish rain from other obstacles." The problem, the report said, was in the part of the radar system that allows the plane to hug the ground in flight.
The plane must hug the ground to avoid enemy radar, which could otherwise detect it despite its radar-evading technologies, said government officials familiar with the aircraft's troubled history.
After 14 years of work "the Air Force has yet to demonstrate that the B-2 design will meet some of its most important mission requirements," the draft report said.
The plane, designed to drop nuclear bombs but modified so that it also can launch conventional weapons, may need another six years of testing, the report said.
Twenty B-2 aircraft are being built, at an overall cost of $44.4 billion. About $24 billion of that sum was spent on research and development. With the research costs included, each 70-ton plane costs more than $2.2 billion, making it the most expensive aircraft in history.
Despite earlier votes to limit the fleet to 20 planes, the House of Representatives, led by conservative Republicans, is trying to revive the B-2 program to build 20 more aircraft at an estimated cost of $16 billion.