WASHINGTON — A TOP Air Force general has offered a surprising amount of detail about the new B-2 Stealth bomber, disclosing it will have great range, an ability to land almost anywhere, and a payload of 25 tons of bombs. The plane's capabilities will be such that had the B-2 been available in 1986, when American bombers attacked Tripoli, Libya, ``just three to four B-2s could have done the job direct from stateside bases,'' said Gen. Bernard Randolph, head of the Air Force Systems Command.
More than 100 aircraft from the Air Force and Navy were used for that bombing mission. The B-2 would require at most two tankers to fuel it during the mission, General Randolph said.
In making his disclosures last weekend, Randolph said little about the B-2's cost or of Defense Secretary Richard Cheney's recent budget decision to postpone the start of production by a year. The plane has yet to undergo flight tests.
But he asserted to aviation reporters that the B-2 was nothing less than a ``quantum leap into the 21st century'' that was essential to future US strength, because of its ability to slip behind enemy lines without being detected on radar.
Among Randolph's disclosures:
The B-2 will be capable of flying more than 6,000 nautical miles without refueling.
The plane will have a maximum takeoff weight of more than 350,000 pounds and will be able to carry up to 50,000 pounds of either nuclear or conventional bombs.
The plane is designed to operate with minimal support equipment and can land on any runway that's just 40 feet wide, meaning ``it can operate from any airfield that can handle a 727 commercial airliner.''