Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a confirmation hearing for US Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) revealed that of the 61 B-1B bombers the USAF possesses, only six are war-ready.
Out of the remaining Lancer bombers, 39 are stuck in the inspection process and 15 others remain in depot maintenance. The status of one additional aircraft was unspecified.
“We were just beating the heck out of them, deploying them, deploying them,” Hyten explained to the committee. “We had to pull back a little and get after fixing those issues. The depots can do that if they have stable funding.”
When US military-focused publication Task & Purpose contacted Air Force Global Strike Command, officials told the outlet that seven B-1Bs were fully mission-capable. Even by that count, only 11% of the fleet would be ready for deployment if necessary.
General Timothy M. Ray, the commander of Global Strike Command, spoke to the Defense Writers Group (DWG) of George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security in January and acknowledged the fleet’s recent string of issues.
“It’s not a young airplane, so the wear and tear on it is part of the things we find,” Ray said.
However, he, like Hyten, is still calling for further funding and blames US Central Command’s (CENTCOM) recent overseas overuse the B-1B for the fleet’s current state.
“We over-extended the B-1 in CENTCOM. Normally you would commit that any bomber or any modern combat aircraft at about 40% of the airplanes that were in your possession as the force, not what the depot possesses. We’re probably approaching 65-70% commit rate over, well over a decade,” Ray told DWG.
Sputnik reported two months ago that the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee expressed concern over the US’ long-range strike capabilities being put “at an increased risk” by the B-1B’s low readiness numbers. They also acknowledged that pilots are “being rerouted from flying the B-1 to other aircraft due to lack of B-1 aircraft for training."
In March, the USAF grounded the B-1B Lancer fleet over concerns surrounding the aircraft’s drogue parachute. This came almost a year after there was another grounding of the Boeing-built fleet by Air Force Global Strike Command in June 2018.