Less than half of the US bomber fleet is ready to ‘fight tonight’

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer prepares to take off for a 10-hour mission from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, into Japanese airspace and over the Korean Peninsula, July 30, 2017. (Tech. Sgt. Richard P. Ebensberger/Air Force)

 

WASHINGTON – Less than half of the bombers President Donald Trump would rely upon to be “locked and loaded” against North Korea could launch today if needed, according to the latest Air Force figures available.

That’s not a surprise to the bomb squadrons who have seen firsthand the combined effects of aircraft age, the demand of 15 years of air war operations and reduced budgets. But the numbers can be stark. Of the nation’s 75 conventional and nuclear B-52s, only about 33 are ready to fly at any given time, according to Air Force statistics. Of the 62 conventional B-1s, only about 25 are ready. With the 20 nuclear B-2 stealth bombers, the number drops further. Seven or eight bombers are available, according to the Air Force.

On a nominal basis you don’t have more than single digits of B-2s available to do anything,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, currently the dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace.

“If anything good comes out of the North Korea crisis,” it should be a wake-up call, he said.

“It’s not just the nation’s bomber force,” that is so stretched, Deptula said. “It’s the military writ large. The U.S. Air Force is the smallest and least ready it’s ever been in history – that should get people’s attention.”

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Growing readiness woes: Only 7 in 10 Air Force planes are ready to fly

Staff Sgt. Shane Dewyar of the 332nd Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron, inspects an engine while deployed to Southwest Asia. Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Eboni Reams/Air Force

 

On March 22, as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un prepared to test-launch a missile and tensions rose on the volatile Korean peninsula, a lone B-1B Lancer bomber took off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and flew across the Pacific on a Continuous Bomber Presence sortie.

It rendezvoused with Japanese F-15J Eagles for a training mission, before flying on to South Korea to further train with their F-15Ks and F-16s.

But there were supposed to be two B-1Bs there that day. The second bomber that was “scheduled to respond to a clear and present danger in North Korea,” as Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said in a hearing later that day, was unable to take off. Pacific Air Forces later said a maintenance issue kept the second Lancer on the ground. Continue reading