Tags: B-1B | Bombers | Slated | For | Retirement | Hang

B-1B Bombers Slated For Retirement Hang On

Sunday, 17 February 2002 12:00 AM

Led by Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., congressional conferees on the Fiscal Year 2002 Defense Authorization Bill last week authorized the Secretary of the Air Force to proceed with reducing the B-1 fleet -- but only after providing Congress with reports on the service’s strategy for implementing the proposed reduction and consolidation.

The conferees also provided $100 million for continued operations of the Air Guard B-1 fleet, as well as $95.5 million for B-1 modifications and $194.5 million for B-1B research and development activities.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been strongly against any delay in the proposed B-1B retirements. From the Congressional Record:

"Just as discouraging, given its pork barrel nature, is a provision that would delay the B-1B Lancer bomber force restructuring or downsizing at a cost of $165 million to U.S. taxpayers.

"This provision has literally made it illegal for the Secretary of Defense to reduce, retire, dismantle, transfer, or reassign the Air National Guard B-1B bomber force by 33 aircraft until the following reports have been prepared: The National Security Review, the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Revised Nuclear Posture Review, the Secretary of Defense Report on the B-1B Bomber, the Bomber Force Structure Report, and a Comptroller General Report on the B-1B Bomber.”

Moves to trim the swept-wing bomber, originally designed to deliver nuclear bombs deep into Soviet territory, are not new. In 1996, the General Accounting Office suggested cutting 27 planes from the fleet and staging them on fewer bases.

But the bomber has until now always managed to avoid the chopping block, despite a history of controversy and the grim statistic that of the original 100 B-1Bs, six have crashed.

B-1s, operating from Missouri, dropped more bombs on Afghanistan than any other aircraft and have garnered recognition as a critical workhorse of the conflict.

The B-1s flying over Afghanistan, however, have been upgraded from the versions that failed to perform in the Persian Gulf War. Over the last couple of years upgrades to the aircraft have increased the bomber’s weapons, navigation and communication capabilities.

Furthermore, the bomber’s iron bombs were converted into "smart” weapons that use a global navigation system to target precisely. Eventually, the B-1 was equipped with a towed decoy system that lures enemy missiles away from the aircraft.

After President Ronald Reagan resurrected the bomber, the military purchased 100 B-1s at $200 million apiece. Originally delivered to the Air Force at Dyess in June 1985, the aircraft reportedly suffered from cracked landing gears, leaking fuel tanks and faulty engines. False images in the terrain-following radar and incompatibility with more advanced systems also troubled the B-1.

But the Air Force reportedly corrected the problems over the years.

During Operation Desert Fox, the B-1 struck Iraqi military bases, and later the B-1 flew 100 combat missions against prime targets in Kosovo during Operation Allied Force.

The aircraft’s nuclear weapons carrying role was terminated in 1997. However, a so-called nuclear "re-role plan” for the B-1B exists if they are ever required for nuclear war. In the meantime, B-1s cannot participate in nuclear exercises.

Under the Rumsfeld plan, the $130 million saved from the cuts would be routed back into the B-1 program for upgrades and operational costs attendant to the remaining fleet.

The additional dollars are needed to assuage what many critics in uniform and out have described as chronic under-funding of what is still the nation’s premier heavy bomber. At one point, an Air Force secretary reported that the B-1 program was $2 billion short of what it needed over a six-year period.

"The Air Force has never supported the B-1 with the necessary parts and funds it needs,” said retired Col. Johnny Griffin, a former Dyess commander. Currently at Dyess, only 30 of the base’s 40 B-1s are fully funded.

Once the reports required under the Chambliss compromise are filed, digested and approved, the 33 B-1’s slated for retirement will be stripped of parts and the carcasses sent to an aircraft bone yard in Arizona.

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Led by Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., congressional conferees on the Fiscal Year 2002 Defense Authorization Bill last week authorized the Secretary of the Air Force to proceed with reducing the B-1 fleet -- but only after providing Congress with reports on the service's...
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2002-00-17
Sunday, 17 February 2002 12:00 AM
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