B-1 bombers have dismal mission-capable rate

An Ellsworth B-1 bomber crew prepares to take off from its base in Qatar to strike targets in Syria following that country's use of chemical weapons against civilians. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

WASHINGTON (KEVN) - The B-1 Lancer stand down because of issues with the bomber’s egress system is just part of the problem plaguing the aging jet.

See related story B-1 bombers at Ellsworth back in the air

In June, Air Force Magazine reported that the House Armed Services Committee questioned the Air Force on B-1 readiness. The HASC pointed to the fact that less than 10 of the 62-plane fleet was fully mission capable.

Combat operations, according to Air Force Global Strike Command, stressed the bomber fleet, increasing maintenance needs.

Concern over the bomber’s readiness was echoed by Sen. Mike Rounds during the July 31 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the nomination of Gen. John Hyten to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In the hearing, Rounds said that there isn’t enough discussion on the readiness of the U.S. Armed Forces today and what’s needed.

“Let me just give some examples,” Rounds said to Hyten. “We have B-1B bombers. This is the workhorse of the Air Force today. Right now, of all of our B-1 bombers we have six of them that are fully-mission capable; five split between Ellsworth Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base and one is a test aircraft. That’s the workhorse of the Air Force.”

“Many of the readiness problems date back to the first year of sequestration,” Hyten replied. “That’s when we impacted readiness across the board. That, combined with continuous at war capabilities for the last 18 years … you put those things together and it puts a huge stress on the force.”

“We saw issues in the B-1 because we were just beating the heck out of them; deploying them and deploying them,” Hyten continued. “So we had to pull back a little bit and get after fixing those issues.”

Hyten told the committee that the Air Force can fix the B-1 problems if there is stable funding.

The military is supposed to brief Congress by March 2020 on a plan to improve the B-1 bomber’s readiness.

The 30-year-old B-1 will ultimately be replaced by the new B-21 Raider. But that won’t happen until the mid-2020s and the B-1 isn’t expected to be fully retired until 2040.