Severe maintenance problems are grounding much of the nation’s B-1 bomber fleet and could cost the government more than $1.1 billion to correct, the General Accounting Office said in a report released Sunday.
Problems ranging from malfunctioning computer equipment to faulty tires have turned many of the long-range bombers into “hangar queens” that cannot be put on military alert or used in critical training flights, the congressional investigative agency said.
In addition, much of the equipment on the 99 strategic bombers is so complex that the Air Force will have to rely on costly outside contractors until 1995 for some repairs and maintenance because not until then, nine years after the aircraft were put into active service, will Air Force crews be fully trained.
‘Growing Pains’ Cited
The Defense Department, in response to the new report, characterized the problems as “growing pains” of a young weapons system and said they “continue to be a troublesome, but manageable, part of its development.”
The GAO report reveals another in a series of problems that plague the $28-billion air leg of the Reagan Administration’s strategic triad. Earlier this fall the agency reported that spare-parts shortages were grounding much of the force.
Tests this summer found design flaws in the bomber’s electronic warfare system that could prevent it from achieving all its planned capabilities and could force the Pentagon to reroute possible bombing runs through the Soviet Union in the event of nuclear war.
Despite the problems, the Air Force said: “All but a few of the B-1s could be launched if a wartime crisis were to occur.”
Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, which ordered the GAO study, said: “The Air Force says the B-1 has been ready to go to war for two years, but when it comes to pinning the service down on some of the plane’s problems, the answer is the plane is still just a kid.”