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Air Force audit exposes major B-52 issue

Two U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers fly over the Pacific Ocean during a routine training mission Aug. 2, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gerald R. Willis)
January 03, 2024

A recent audit of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress revealed that the United States Air Force’s $48.6 billion modernization plan is at risk of being negatively impacted by supply chain issues as the Air Force has failed to track spare parts for the aging bombers.

A Nov. 28 press release by the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General revealed the key findings of the “Audit of B-52 Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages.”

“The report identified that the U.S. Air Force did not effectively manage diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages (DMSMS) for the B-52 Stratofortress aircraft,” the Inspector General’s press release stated. “Failure to effectively manage these shortages contributed to spare part shortages.”

According to Stars and Stripes, the Air Force currently operates 76 B-52H bombers, with the most recent of the bombers constructed in 1962. Boeing built 744 total B-52s for the Air Force, with the first B-52 bomber being used in the service in 1955.

“Despite its age, the B-52 remains a cornerstone in the Air Force’s arsenal,” Air Force Inspector General Robert P. Storch wrote in his audit. “The supply chain challenges identified in this audit could impact the Air Force’s ability to keep the aircraft flying.”

Stars and Stripes reported that the Pentagon has developed a $48.6 billion modernization plan for the B-52 bomber, which is expected to extend the service life of the Stratofortress to 2060.

Under the Air Force’s modernization plan, the B-52 bombers would have new Rolls Royce F130 engines, improved radar, a modernized and expanded weapons bay, and avionics upgrades. Additionally, the modernization plan would change the bomber’s designation to B-52J.

READ MORE: US Air Force increasing Pacific presence, rebuilds WWII base

While the Air Force’s modernization plan would enable the B-52 bombers to remain an essential military asset with updated capabilities, Stars and Stripes reported that the aircraft still relies on original parts from the manufacturing of the B-52 bombers in the 1960s.

The “Audit of B-52 Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages” discovered that the Air Force did not have an adequate list of spare parts that are needed in order to maintain the B-52 bombers; instead, the audit found that the Air Force relies on using parts from other B-52 bombers when spare parts are required.

Additionally, the audit showed that the Air Force needs to obtain an accurate count of companies that have stopped producing B-52 parts.

While the “Audit of B-52 Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages” noted that the Air Force agreed to do an annual “Weapon System Support Program” coding review based on the Inspector General’s recommendation, it also noted that the Air Force had not adequately addressed two other recommendations from the audit regarding the compilation of a list of B-52 spare parts, as well as the implementation of a system to identify and keep track of manufacturing companies that still make parts for the B-52 bombers.