The U.S. Air Force’s fleet of B-1B bombers is undergoing a readiness crises that has resulted in less than ten of 62 bombers capable of carrying out missions. The low readiness rating is almost certainly the worst among the U.S. military’s combat aircraft and reduces the overall number of bombers by almost a third.
Air Force Times, which broke the news, reports that the number of fully capable B-1Bs is currently in the “single digits.” According to June 2019 issue of Air Force Magazine, the service is supposed to have 62 B-1Bs in operation. The problem is so bad that B-1 air crews are being temporarily assigned to other airframes.
A number of issues are likely involved. The B-1B fleet is reportedly not receiving the “resources and attention necessary” to keep the fleet going. The last bomber was produced 31 years ago, and as planes grow older they grow more expensive and difficult to repair. One problem in particular is that the bombers reportedly suffer from structural issues. Another issue is the high tempo of operations in the post 9/11 period. The heavy strategic bomber became a close air support favorite in the skies over Afghanistan, with its ability to dash to support troops in contact, stay aloft for hours on end, and drop bombs with precision.
The B-1B is one of three heavy bombers in the U.S. Air Force. Among the three types—B-1B Lancer, B-52H Stratofortress, and B-2 Spirit—the B-1B is the only non-nuclear capable bomber. The Air Force is supposed to have 157 bombers in operation, but the B-1B readiness problems take at least 52 bombers out of that total. The readiness rate for the B-52H and B-2 is unknown.
The B-1B now focuses on conventional missions, including long range strike and maritime missions against enemy ships. B-1B bombers took part in the April 2018 strike on Syrian chemical weapons facilities, launching several Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missiles at regime targets. The B-1B will be replaced in the late 2020s by the upcoming B-21 Raider bomber.
Source: Popular Mechanics