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Nearly 90 percent of B-1B bombers not ready for war, top Air Force general says

Four U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, arrive Feb. 6, 2017, at Andersen AFB, Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard P. Ebensberger/Released)
August 02, 2019

Almost 90 percent of the Air Force’s B-1B Lancer bombers are not ready for combat.

Out of a fleet of 61, only seven B-1B Lancer bombers are mission-capable, while 39 are down for inspections and the remaining 15 are in depot maintenance, according to a report by Task and Purpose on Wednesday.

Gen. John Hyten said on Tuesday during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing that the reason for the disrepair is because the military is over-using and under-maintaining the bombers.

“We were just beating the heck out of them, deploying them, deploying them,” Hyten told lawmakers during his request for additional funding to make the necessary repairs. “We had to pull back a little and get after fixing those issues. The depots can do that if they have stable funding.”

Hyten’s comments on Tuesday closely follow those made by Gen. Timothy Ray, who spoke on April 17 to a group of reporters about the fleet’s current state.

“Normally, you would commit — [with] any bomber or any modern combat aircraft — about 40 percent of the airplanes in your possession as a force, [not including those] in depot,” Ray said at the time, as reported. “We were probably approaching the 65 to 70 percent commit rate [for] well over a decade. So the wear and tear on the crews, the maintainers, and certainly the airplane, that was my cause for asking for us to get out of the CENTCOM [Central Command] fight.”

The B-1B Lancer bombers replaced the B-52 Stratofortress bombers in the Middle East on March 31, 2018, after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus.

A non-nuclear bomber, the B-1B Lancer, nicknamed “The Bone,” was removed from the Middle East so the B-52 Stratofortress bomber could conduct an 18-month-long mission.

“The Bone is back. Two B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth AFB, S.D., arrive at Al Udeid AB, Qatar, March 31. Following two years supporting U.S. Pacific Command requirements, the B-1 returns to the U.S. Central Command AOR where it will take over bomber duty from the venerable B-52 Stratofortress,” The U.S. Air Forces Central Command wrote in a Facebook post when the first B-1B lancers were deployed last year.

“The BUFF will soon depart following two years in which it played an instrumental role in the fights against ISIS and the Taliban, clocking more than 1,800 sorties and approximately 12,000 weapons released against targets in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan,” the post said.

When asked about the transition back to the B-1B Lancers, Ray said the B-52 Stratofortress was used primarily for ground support and that is no longer a priority, given the current state of ISIS.

“A lot of what we were doing was in support of ground forces in the fight against [the Islamic State], and now you know their status,” Ray said, referring to the militants’ significantly reduced strongholds in Iraq and Syria.