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Sometime last year, before September 11th, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, (OSD), made a decision to cut 32 B-1 bombers from our arsenal from the 92 we presently have to 60 and mothball the rest at the graveyard for our military aircraft, Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. Ten of the planes would be put in INVIOLATE storage and could be pulled back out of storage but would have to be upgraded later at considerable expense. The OSD chose this plan from the options the Air Force offered as a way to pay for the cost of the B-1 upgrades that are presently being done. It could be assumed the Air Force was not expecting them to take this option.


We presently only have 207 long range bombers B-52’s, B-1’s and B-2’s in our entire national arsenal of which only 180 are combat ready.

The OSD is also planning to cut 18 B-52’s. This would mean a total cut of almost 25% of our long range bombers - with the increasing threat of Iran, Iraq and North Korea - all of which have much stronger surface to air missile threat than did Afghanistan.


There are 94 B-52’s in service built in the 1960’s with 1950’s technology. There isn’t another long range bomber scheduled to be built until 2037 when all of our current bomber air frames structurally will begin to wear out, which means we could be trying to fight a war in the 2030’s with bombers equivalent to Model T’s. The B-1 bombers were fought for by President Reagan and pushed through in the 1980’s ahead of normal lead times for development and testing causing early deficiencies that would have been caught in a normal production cycle causing them initially to have a poor reputation. In addition, they have been disparaged to some degree by the Air Force because they wanted more B-2’s of which only 21 were built in the 1990’s. The truth is that the B-1’s are a great airplane, supersonic and can carry the most payload of any of our bombers. They are reliable and the bugs have been worked out.


In Afghanistan, the long range bombers in our inventory delivered 70% of the ordinance dropped and of that amount the B-2’s only had six strike missions and the B-1’s and B-52’s did the rest. U.S. Navy carrier based fighters which flew 5900 of the 6500 strikes or 75% of the total missions, only dropped 30% of the bombs according to the Combined Air Operations Center, (CAOC) [LA Times 2-10-02]. How much did the B-1’s drop? That is classified. However, the weapon of choice in Afghanistan was the "Joint Direct Attack Munition" (JDAM) [JDAM Description], the precision guided weapon with pinpoint accuracy and devastating results. The B-1’s carry 24 JDAMS and the B-52’s only carry 12. So if you do the math, the B-1’s could have dropped 50% of the bombs over Afghanistan. The reason the press didn’t feature how well the B-1’s were doing is because of the Air Force’s unwillingness to praise a weapons system they were trying to cut back by one third of and also the fact that the B-52’s operated mostly in the daytime with large vapor trials and so were easy to spot, film, and talk about. The B-1’s flew most of their missions at night and so didn’t receive a lot of press. The Air Force can’t refute the facts and is openly giving the B-1 credit for being the workhorse in Afghanistan but they say the right answer is to cut the fleet to 60 with the best capability rather than have 90 not capable-but is 60 enough?

One of the greatest reasons to keep our long range bombers, however, is because we are in danger of losing our forward bases or are being restricted in where our planes can fly and weapons they can carry from the host countries. Long range bombers are needed because they can operate without forward bases if they have to and they do not need to be refueled as often as fighters which can require extensive air fueling - 4 to 5 times for each Navy fighter sortie in the battle over Afghanistan alone. In addition, the Navy requires fighters to operate off of an aircraft carrier with an entire convoy of ships.

Another argument that has been given against the B-1’s is that they are expensive to fly. The B-52’s cost approximately $25,000 per flight hour to operate, the B-1’s approximately $35,000 and the B-2’s approximately $55,000, while fighters cost only $10,000 to $15,000 per hour. The B-1’s however, because they can carry more weapons, 24 JDAMS vs. 12 for the B-52 and only 2 to 4 for fighters, are much more cost effective at delivering weapons on target. Some would say the B-1’s have too large a radar pattern to be able to fight with surface to air missile threats. The radar image of a B-1 is approximately 100 times smaller than a B-52. A B-2’s is significantly less, but let’s say it’s like a grapefruit. The fact is a B-1 has a smaller radar image than many of our fighters and looks like a fighter on radar. B-1’s come equipped with many defensive weapons and utilize a Defensive Weapons Officer in the back seat, whose job is to evade enemy air defenses. An additional advantage of the B-1’s is against electromagnetic weapons which can make our electronics systems malfunction. The B-1’s are the most hardened of our bombers against such a threat.

The fact is our three bombers are complimentary, operating in layers like a wedding cake. B-2 stealth bombers with the smallest radar pattern can be used to knock out the most heavily defended targets. Once those highly strategic sites have been taken out, the heavy lifters, the B-1’s and B-52’s can hit stand off targets and can come in like 18 wheeler trucks. Although new fighters are needed, trying to fight a war with all fighters would be like UPS getting rid of all their over-the-road semis and trying to do business entirely with their smaller delivery trucks. Bombers are already at the lowest level of the last 50 years. We used to have 700 bombers. Now we only have 207.

Bombers are actually the highest priority system in the war on terrorism. They can go anywhere - even around the world and require limited refueling. Deep cutting makes no sense. We should be increasing, rather than decreasing, the weapon of choice on terrorism. We need long range capability so that terrorists can’t hide. You don’t want to reduce a bomber only a little over 10 years old. The Air Force has not given bombers high enough priority and have under-funded bombers the past ten years, causing them to fall behind in scheduled upgrades. The answer is to keep all our long range bombers and fully fund their upgrades and parts.

The fact remains that the OSD has asked Congress for authority to cut back 32 B-1’s this fiscal year by September 30th of this year, 2002, and move the rest to two bases - Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota and Dyess in Texas. The B-1’s that were previously stationed in Mountain Home, Idaho and at National Guard bases in Kansas and Georgia will be replaced by other aircraft. It is logical that the Air Force will save money by consolidating the B-1’s at two bases, Dyess, TX and Ellsworth, SD, which can support all the B-1’s. The South Dakota base will gain B-1’s for regular duty but lose two DET attachments, weapons and testing schools, for a net gain of 0 - they stay even. Texas loses B-1’s for regular duty but gains the two DET attachments for a net loss in B-1’s.

The summary is that the Kansas, Georgia, Idaho, South Dakota and Texas Congressional delegations have been pacified by moving planes and personnel, however Congress has said - Hold Up! Until Congress gets the Air Force and Government Accounting Office, GAO, reports showing this is the best for our country, Congress has said the Department of Defense, DOD, can’t spend money on anything. In the Air Force report they hope to finish in February, it is assumed they will factually answer the questions and try to justify the President. In the GAO report, the GAO asked the men who fight our wars - the Air Force officers at combat level - if they had been consulted about this proposal to cut our B-1 bomber force by one third and they said no - it was entirely a OSD decision with no input from the war fighter level. It is expected the GAO will conclude it was entirely a Pentagon decision and they could have taken the money from another option. Even though 60 planes may get the upgrades that are needed to be more effective in offensive capability and fiber optics for greater defensive capability, the fact still remains that we will have 15% fewer bombers to do business with in a very dangerous world, actually 25% if you include the 18 B-52’s which are also scheduled to be reduced.

The best option is to keep the entire fleet of 92 B-1’s and to have them all upgraded. We are putting down the newer (completed in 1988), more efficient B-1’s that can carry more payload. In addition, having only 60 of one plane makes them more expensive to keep operational and more vulnerable to future cut backs. Because the OSD, and in essence the President, have said this is what we’re going to do, the Air Force officers cannot speak against it, they must salute and carry out their orders. The Air Force and GAO reports are due to Congress in late February or mid March, 2002. After that, Congress has only 15 days to act to stop the OSD plans. Time is short.

The only answer is concerned citizens lobbying Congress to "KOB" - Keep Our Bombers!

The only way we can protect our country and Keep Our Bombers is to mobilize grassroots citizens, asking them to call their members of Congress, requesting that Congress stop this plan and to fully fund all the upgrades needed on the entire fleet of B-1’s including adequate spare parts which have never been fully funded from day one. The cannibalization rate on B-1’s is very high, 80-90%, meaning that almost all of the time when a B-1 needs a part it has to be taken from an existing B-1 aircraft. This greatly increases maintenance costs. The upgrades have been spread out over long periods of time making the cost of upgrades much higher than if they were done altogether. The amount that the OSD reports as saving from cutting one third of the B-1’s, 15% of our entire bomber fleet, is a measly 180 million dollars. In addition, there is no guarantee the savings will be used to upgrade the rest of the B-1’s. The upgrades are needed because of the availability of the latest technology and to replace non-supportable technology. In addition, the upgrades will allow the B-1’s the computer capacity to release all three types of bombs we currently use in our inventory on the same sorties, JDAMS, dumb bombs, and cluster bombs.

If we can’t find the money to keep our bombers flying with adequate upgrades and parts with the current threat - not to mention unseen threats for the next 40 years, we’re in deep trouble. The lower numbers of bombers available due to not being combat ready or just attrition (we’ve lost 7 B-1’s alone in just 15 years) over the next 40 years puts our bomber fleet at dangerously low levels. The other factor to be considered is the fewer number of bombers that we have in our inventory, the greater number of Air Expeditionary Force, (AEF), deployments that our personnel must go on and the greater stress on Air Force families.


In a war, shouldn’t we put all these cutbacks on hold? Our B-1’s had been initially budgeted to modernize the entire fleet. Let’s pay the price to keep our country militarily strong. The Air Force has their marching orders. Only Congress can stop the process by God’s grace. Congress can override the Department of Defense and the President to give them more money to upgrade the whole fleet and pay for the cost overruns.


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