US Air Force’s Aging B-1B Lancer Fleet Suffering From Major Readiness Issues

© Flickr / poter.simon Rockwell B-1 Lancer
Rockwell B-1 Lancer - Sputnik International
The Pentagon’s fleet of B-1B Lancer supersonic bombers is showing its age, and according to a Congressional panel, is in need of serious repairs. Of the 62 Lancers, fewer than 10 are mission-capable.

According to the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, issues with combat readiness among the B-1B fleet places US long-range strike capabilities "at increased risk," thanks to a host of structural problems associated with the bombers' age.

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Now, House lawmakers are seeking to force the Air Force to update the House Armed Services Committee on a plan to improve B-1 readiness by March 1 of next year, Air Force Magazine reported.

"The committee is concerned B-1 readiness does not have the priority and resources to improve B-1 mission-capable rates," the bill states, introduced by the subcommittee Monday. "This is evidenced by fully mission-capable aircraft currently in single digits and aircrew being rerouted from flying the B-1 to other aircraft due to lack of B-1 aircraft for training."

Air Force Times notes that some of the myriad problems suffered by the Lancers include malfunctioning ejection seats — for which the jets have been grounded twice in the last year — and a fire that broke out on one bomber's wing last summer.

The plan will have to detail how the service will fix the B-1Bs' problems, as well as how it will mitigate future problems before they get as bad as they are now.

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In fiscal year 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the Air Force reported that only 32 or 33 of its 62 B-1Bs were ready to fly at any given moment; however, now the rate is so low that fewer than 10 are ready to fly. The situation has forced B-1B crews into other aircraft, as there aren't even enough for them to carry out their necessary training, Air Force Times reported.

In a Wednesday statement, Air Force Global Strike Command told reporters it was conducting an engineering review of its B-1B fleet.

Built by plane maker Rockwell (now a part of Boeing) in the 1980s, the B-1B was a rebooted strategic bomber program intended to plug an important gap in US nuclear and conventional strike capabilities, as the sluggish B-52 became increasingly vulnerable to Soviet anti-air defenses and the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber program wouldn't be ready for years to come. Thus, it was packed with some of the most advanced avionics systems and structural improvements, including a reduced radar cross-section, then possible.

It's expected the aircraft will begin to be retired as Northrop Grumman's B-21 enters service beginning in the late 2020s.

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