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Senator: Only six of military's B-1 bombers are fully mission-capable

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron takes off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam on Sept. 9, 2017.

JACOB SKOVO/U.S. AIR FORCE

By SETH TUPPER | The Rapid City (S.D.) Journal | Published: August 13, 2019

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Just six of the nation’s B-1 bombers are fully mission capable, according to U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds.

Rounds, a Republican representing South Dakota, made the statement July 30 during a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for Gen. John Hyten, who is nominated for vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Much of the hearing focused on a sexual assault allegation against Hyten that he denies. The committee advanced his nomination to the full Senate.

When it was Rounds’ turn to ask questions at the hearing, he focused on military readiness.

“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. One is a test aircraft,” Rounds said.

Ellsworth is near Rapid City, and Dyess is in Texas. Both are home bases for B-1s. The bombers, which date to the 1980s, can reach speeds beyond 900 mph, carry a payload of 75,000 pounds and tote 24 cruise missiles.

Rounds went on to say that 15 B-1s are “in depot,” and “the remaining 39 of 44 B-1s at Ellsworth and at Dyess are down for a variety of discrepancies and inspections.”

Rounds’ numbers indicated a total fleet of 60 B-1s. His office later clarified for the Journal that there are 62 B-1s in the fleet, including the six that are fully mission-capable among the 45 that are split between Ellsworth and Dyess (21 at Ellsworth, and 24 at Dyess), plus the 15 in depot at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and two test B-1s at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

During the hearing, Rounds asked Hyten what should be done to restore the readiness of B-1s, along with other military equipment and weapons.

Hyten said funding is the key.

“We saw issues in the B-1, because we were just beating the heck out of them, deploying them and deploying them, and so we had to pull back a little bit and get after fixing those issues, and the depots can do that if they have stable funding,” Hyten said.

A measure of stability was achieved a few days after the hearing when President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan budget deal that will increase defense spending by 3 percent to $738 billion next year.

According to Boeing, B-1s have flown more than 12,000 sorties since 2001 over Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq. The entire B-1 fleet was temporarily grounded in June 2018 and again in March of this year because of ejection-seat problems.

B-1s will eventually be phased out by B-21 bombers, which are under development by the Air Force and Northrop Grumman and are planned to be sent first to Ellsworth, beginning sometime in the 2020s.

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