Long-Range Bombers: Background and Issues for Congress
CRS Report for Congress
Background and Issues for Congress
Updated August 19, 2003
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Background and Issues for Congress
The Air Force’s long-range bombers were designed during the Cold War to
deliver nuclear strikes against the Soviet Union. Although they can be vulnerable to
enemy defenses if detected, they combine the ability to fly extended distances, much
farther than most other combat aircraft, with the ability to carry weapons payloads
many times larger than that of fighters. Over the past decade, the Air Force has taken
advantage of these characteristics by migrating its bomber fleet from a nuclear to a
conventional role. Today, the Air Force maintains three bombers: the B-1B, the B-2,
and the B-52, and each has been outfitted with a variety of precision and “dumb”
weapons for conventional strikes. In recent conflicts in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq
(2003), bombers have played prominent roles.
Questions remain, however, about where bombers fit into Air Force spending
priorities. Some argue that because bombers can be vulnerable against advanced air
defenses, scarce resources are best spent on other programs that can address the full
spectrum of potential future conflicts, such as the F/A-22 Raptor. Others counter that
the range and payload of the bombers — many times that of fighters like the F/A-22
— make them extremely valuable and believe that modernizing them, building
additional aircraft, and developing a next-generation bomber should be top budget
Decisions in Congress and the Department of Defense regarding bombers may
have important long-term implications. Each of the three bombers is in need of
expensive upgrades, and decisions about the funding of these upgrades may affect the
continued utility of these aircraft. Second, a debate has arisen over whether to
expand or contract the bomber fleet. Third, military observers and policymakers
disagree about when to begin a next-generation bomber program; some push to begin
a new program immediately, while others advocate waiting a decade or more before
initiating development of a new bomber.
This report discusses the background, status, and current issues surrounding the
Air Force’s long-range bomber fleet. Before addressing each of the three bombers
individually, this report analyzes issues affecting the entire fleet.
In troduction ..................................................2
The Role of Bombers in Current and Future Conflicts.................3
Next Generation Bomber........................................8
Fleet Diversity Versus Uniformity............................12
Mission Capable Rate.....................................16
Desert Storm (Iraq, 1991)..................................17
Operation Desert Fox (Iraq, 1998)............................17
Operation Allied Force (Kosovo)............................17
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)....................17
Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003).............................18
Effects of Consolidation...................................23
Criticism of the Consolidation Plan...........................23
Reinstatement of Retired B-1s...............................24
New Basing for the B-1B...................................25
Alternative Air National Guard (ANG) Missions................25
The Conventional Munition Upgrade Program (CMUP)..........26
Block E (Wind Corrected Munition Dispenser (WCMD)
Integration and Computer Upgrade)......................26
Block F (Defensive System update Program, DSUP).............26
BONE (B-One Next Enhancement) Contract...................27
Operation Desert Storm (Iraq)...............................29
Operation Desert Fox (Iraq).................................29
Operation Allied Force (Kosovo)............................29
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)....................29
Operation Iraqi Freedom...................................30
Link 16 and Beyond the Line of Sight (BLOS) Communications
Alternate High Frequency Material...........................36
Mission Capable Rate.....................................37
Operation Allied Force (Kosovo)............................39
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)....................39
Operation Iraqi Freedom...................................39
List of Figures
Figure 1. Economic Service Life and Attrition...........................8
Figure 2. B-52 Stratofortress........................................13
Figure 3. B-1B Lancer.............................................21
Figure 4. B-2 Spirit...............................................33
List of Tables
Table 1. Comparison of U.S. Long-Range Bombers.......................2
Table 2. Projected Range and Air-to-Ground Strike Capabilities of
Bombers and Select Fighters.....................................4
Table 3. Inventory, Status, and Age of Air Force Bombers..................6
Table 4. B-52 Appropriations, by Year................................19
Table 5. B-1B Appropriations, by Year................................31
Table 6. B-2 Appropriations, by Year.................................40
Background and Issues for Congress
During the Cold War, the primary mission of long-range bombers was to deter
a nuclear attack on the United States by threatening the Soviet Union with retaliation.
Manned bombers, the airborne leg of the U.S. strategic triad, were designated as a
second-strike force that would hit back after a Soviet attack. In the Cold War-era,
policy makers envisioned a fleet of over four hundred bombers enabling the United
States to overwhelm perceived, on-going improvements in Soviet air defenses.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the end of the Cold War and the breakup
of the Soviet Union led policymakers to reconsider the value of bombers. At the same
time, a U.S. economic recession led to military spending cuts. Because bombers are
among the most expensive systems in the Air Force inventory, they were ripe targets
for funding cuts. During this period, the planned procurement of B-2s was reduced,
many B-52s were retired, and an ongoing debate began about retiring a number of B-
In 1992, the bomber force was combined with other power-projecting assets of
the Air Force when Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command merged to
form Air Combat Command (ACC). According to the Air Force, this restructuring
reflected an integrated way of thinking about air power. The role of long-range
bombers within the ACC is to combine mass (large payloads), reach (long range),
and immediacy (quick response) with the ability to conduct precision strikes with
Today the United States Air Force maintains three long-range bombers: the
venerable B-52 Stratofortress, the supersonic B-1B Lancer, and the stealthy B-2
Spirit. Table 1 lists the characteristics of each. Since the end of the Cold War, their
primary mission has shifted from nuclear deterrence to conventional bombing, and
all three have been reconfigured to carry a variety of modern conventional bombs and
air-to-surface missiles. Since the debut of precision weapons in the late 1990s, the
bombers have seen their role increase, with bombers increasingly used for precision
strikes and close air support to U.S. and allied ground forces. Despite the shift to
conventional missions, some bombers retain nuclear capabilities: the B-2 is certified1
to deliver nuclear weapons, and twelve B-52s “are held ready for nuclear missions.”
1 Secretary of Defense. Annual Report to the President and the Congress. 2000.
In 1999, the three bombers were used together for the first time in air strikes
against Yugoslavia under NATO’s Operation Allied Force. The B-2 bomber made
its operational debut, flying to Yugoslavia from Whiteman Air Force Base in
Missouri. All three bombers also played prominent roles in Operation Enduring
Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
Table 1. Comparison of U.S. Long-Range Bombers
Featu re B -1 B -2 B -52
Un-refueled Range7,455 6,000 + 8,800
Weight, empty (lbs.)192,000160,000185,000
Max. takeoff weight477,000336,500488,000
Payload (lbs.)55,000 40,000 50,000
Speed1.2 machHigh subsonic .84 mach
Altitude > 30,000 ft. ceiling200 ft. minimum; 50,000 ft. ceiling 50,000 ft. ceiling
Un-refueled range7,4556,000 + miles8,800
St ealth Some Excellent None
Sources: Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft (various years), USAF Fact Sheets. Air Force Magazine, Air
Force Almanac. (Various years). U.S. Air Force Long-Range Strike Aircraft White Paper. November
Despite a prominent and widely praised role in the recent operations in
Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), there is little consensus among military leaders
and policymakers regarding the future of long-range bombers. While some advocate
increasing today’s bomber fleet and beginning development of a new bomber
immediately, others are pushing to cut the fleet and postpone a new bomber program.
Supporters point to bombers’ ability to carry massive weapons payloads, to loiter
over battlefields for long periods of time, and to strike targets around the globe from
bases in the continental United States. Detractors contend that large, lumbering
bombers are vulnerable to enemy air defenses, including surface-to-air missiles as
well as enemy fighters. In the high-threat environments for which the Air Force
plans, the role of most bombers would be reduced, and fighter/strike aircraft, which
are more “survivable” but have much shorter range and a fraction of the payload,
would have to take up the slack. Bomber advocates counter that the conflicts the
United States has faced in recent years, and those it is most likely to face in the
foreseeable future, would not involve high-threat environments, and that even if they
did, bombers would likely play an important role once enemy air defenses have been
destroyed. Moreover, they say, bombers should be upgraded so they can penetrate
advanced air defenses.
At issue, then, is what priority to give bombers in the overall defense budget.
Advocates argue that the United States does not have enough bombers, that they are
not being modernized quickly enough, and that the Air Force needs to begin investing
in a next generation bomber immediately. There are currently no open production
lines for bombers, although some have advocated for re-opening production of B-2
stealth bombers. Bomber detractors believe that defense dollars are better spent
elsewhere, on programs that address the “full spectrum” of missions the Air Force
might confront, not just the low-threat environments faced in Afghanistan and Iraq.
These detractors say that even though the bombers performed well in Afghanistan
and Iraq, those conflicts were anomalies; the former was among the poorest states,
while the latter had had its air defenses destroyed by the first Gulf War and more than
10 years of sanctions and air strikes. Contingencies in other parts of the globe, they
argue, could involve more extensive air defenses, requiring more survivable aircraft,
such as the F/A-22, to “knock down the door” and clear the way for follow-on
aircraft. Others disagree and contend that the wars the United States is likely to fight
in the foreseeable future, like those it has fought over the past 30 years, have been
against poorly defended opponents in the developing world.
Long-range bomber issues that may confront Congress include the following:
What types of conflicts does the United States need to prepare for and how relevant
are bombers to those scenarios? How many bombers does the Air Force need to meet
the requirements of these conflicts? To what extent, if at all, do the bombers need
to be upgraded to meet these requirements? Is a next-generation bomber needed, and
if so, when? This report will address these big-picture issues, which relate to the
entire bomber fleet, before turning to each of the three bombers individually.
The Role of Bombers in Current and Future Conflicts
A key consideration in decisions about modernizing the bombers, expanding or
contracting the fleet, and developing a next-generation bomber is the type of conflict
the United States might face in the foreseeable future. The three bombers have
different roles in different types of conflicts. The large but vulnerable B-52 serves
as a bomber in “low-threat” environments, dropping a variety of precision and
“dumb” bombs, while in higher-threat environments it serves as a “stand-off” missile
launcher, firing air-to-ground cruise missiles from beyond the range of enemy
defenses. The B-1, in addition to serving as a bomber in low threat environments,
is capable of penetrating some air defenses because of its speed, anti-missile
defensive systems, and reduced radar signature (stealth). The B-2, which has
superior stealth, can undertake penetration missions against more sophisticated
In recent conflicts, the United States has faced opponents with rudimentary or
battered air defenses, and all three bombers have been able to attack targets with
impunity. Against an opponent with sophisticated defenses, however, the B-52 and
possibly the B-1 could be reduced to a stand-off role. In the case of the B-1, the
plane’s existing defensive systems will soon become obsolete and the program to
design a replacement was cancelled by the Department of Defense (DOD) in late
2002 (See B-1 DSUP, below). As a result, the B-1, like the B-52, could be relegated
to a stand-off role against even modest air defenses. Although the B-1 and B-52 are
being outfitted with more sophisticated stand-off weapons, the B-2, of which the Air
Force maintains only 16 combat-ready aircraft, would be the only long-range strike
aircraft capable of penetrating air defenses. Other than the 16 B-2s, the Air Force
would need to rely on fighter/attack aircraft such as the F/A-22 and the Joint Strike
Fighter (JSF) despite their shorter range and smaller weapons payload, to attack
ground targets in high-threat areas.
Table 2. Projected Range and Air-to-Ground Strike Capabilities
of Bombers and Select Fighters
Un-refueled Combat Radius2,2003,0003,826633540
Payload (lbs.)55,000 40,000 50,00014,6004,500
Max. takeoff weight (lbs.)477,000336,500488,00050,00060,000
500 lb. JDAMsn/a80302n/a
Small Diameter Bombs b144320+14488
Sources: Air Combat Command Public Affairs Office, Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft (various years),
USAF Fact Sheets, Air Force Almanac (various years).
Note: Stated numbers for the JSF and F/A-22 assume an air-to-ground strike configuration and that
fuel and weapons are carried internally. Although both are capable of carrying external fuel tanks and
weapons, doing so can compromise stealth. Data for the JSF is projected; flight testing has not been
co mp leted .
a. The F/A-22 cannot carry the 2,000 lb. JDAM. It can carry two 1,000 lb. JDAMs internally for
b. Numbers for the SDB are estimates; SDB development has not been completed.
The Air Force points out that against the most sophisticated air defenses, the
F/A-22 will be the most “survivable” and effective aircraft because of its stealth,
speed, and agility, even though its range is shorted and its payload smaller in
comparison to the B-2. The Air Force and other observers contend that the F/A-22
will be the only aircraft that can reliably penetrate advanced defenses and “break
down the door” for follow-on aircraft; resources are therefore best spent on such
aircraft rather than on upgrading or building more bombers. B-1s and B-52s will
continue to play a role as stand-off platforms and as follow-on strike platforms, and
B-2s will continue to serve as penetrators, but to ensure access in high-threat
environments, these observers say, the bulk of Air Force investment should go to
Bomber advocates, on the other hand, argue that building more B-2s and
upgrading the B-1’s defensive systems are cheaper, more effective ways to address
the high-threat environment than developing advanced fighters. Modernizing
existing bombers and expanding the fleet will not only address the high-threat
environment, they say, but also will improve capabilities in lower-threat
environments. They point to several advantages of bombers:
!Long-range bombers are designed to operate from far-away bases
and can strike targets around the globe from the United States if
necessary. Allies sometimes restrict the Air Force’s use of bases
close to conflicts. In the recent war in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey
prohibited the use of their air bases for combat missions, and other
countries denied rights to fly through their air space. Even with
aerial refueling, short-range aircraft require bases close to the
conflict zone to operate effectively, and their value in future
conflicts could be severely diminished if nearby countries deny
!Even if neighboring countries provide access to bases near a future
conflict, opponents could use surface-to-surface missiles to disable
those bases, again limiting the capabilities of short-range aircraft.
!New targeting technologies have dramatically increased the
capabilities of bombers. Because of GPS- and laser-guided
munitions and new targeting pods, high-flying bombers now conduct
precision strikes previously conducted only by low-flying, short-
range aircraft. In Afghanistan and Iraq, bombers performed close air
support missions, previously the exclusive domain of low-flyers like
the A-10 Warthog.
!Bombers’ long range and massive payload enable them to loiter for
hours above conflict zones so they can respond rapidly to newly
designated, time-sensitive targets.
Bomber advocates point out that these new capabilities have substantially
increased demand for bombers in recent conflicts. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, for
example, B-1s were in such demand that CENTCOM air component commander Lt.
Gen. Michael Moseley personally managed their scheduling.2 Since 12 of the 36
combat ready B-1s were deployed to Guam in case of an emergency in Korea and
another 12 were undergoing maintenance or modernization, only 12 were available
for the war. The demand for bombers is also apparent in statistics for recent
conflicts: in Afghanistan, bombers accounted for 20% of combat missions and
dropped 76% of the bomb tonnage in the first three weeks of the air campaign.3 In
Iraq, the B-1 flew fewer than 2% of the total number of combat sorties, yet dropped
roughly half of the JDAMs.4
Bomber advocates also contend that few potential opponents are likely to obtain
advanced air defenses because they are expensive and difficult to operate. In recent
2 David A. Fulghum and Robert Wall, “Baghdad Confidential,” Aviation Week, April 28,
3 Bruce Rolfson. “Bombers Shine in Air War But Remain Budget Targets.” Air Force Times.
November 26, 2001.
4 David A. Fulghum and Robert Wall, “Baghdad Confidential,” April 28, 2003.
wars and in the most likely scenarios for future conflict, air defenses are modest at
best. Bomber advocates therefore say that a bomber fleet with upgraded defensive
systems will remain valuable in the vast majority of future conflicts.
How many bombers does the Air Force need? How many will it need in the
future? The Air Force currently maintains 183 long-range bombers, of which 96 are
combat ready. It plans to reduce the number of B-1s to 60, although some members
of Congress oppose this consolidation (see B-1 consolidation, below). Likewise,
DOD has sought to cut 18 B-52s from the fleet, but has met with resistance from
Congress (see B-52 consolidation, below).
Table 3. Inventory, Status, and Age of Air Force Bombers
Average Age126.96.36.199 —
Source: Air Force Almanac, 2003 (September, 2002).
When evaluating the inventory requirements for tomorrow’s long-range bomber
force, a number of factors must be weighed, including the anticipated politico-
military environment, the numbers and capabilities of other military platforms that
can deliver long-range weapons (e.g., Navy ships), and improvements in targeting
and weapons technologies. What impact will the conversion of ballistic-missile
submarines (SSBN) into cruise-missile carriers (SSGN; each converted Trident
submarine would carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles) have on the required number
of B-52s? Can bomber variants of the F/A-22 or Joint Strike Fighter be developed
that could contribute to the long-range bombing mission? Can unmanned aerial
vehicles (UAVs) be armed so they can take on a bombing role? If so, would this
reduce the needed number of B-1s or B-2s?5
Bomber advocates, including some members of Congress, contend that more
bombers are needed given the expanded roles of these aircraft in recent conflicts and
the possibility that the United States will be denied access to overseas bases in the
future. In particular, some in Congress have argued for re-opening production of the
B-2 to augment the bomber fleet and improve long-range penetration capabilities (see
5 See CRS Report RL31673 for more information on a potential bomber variant of the F/A-
The Air Force and DOD, however, remain opposed to expanding the bomber
fleet and continue to press for cuts in the numbers of B-1s and B-52s. The Air Force
contends that the current number of combat-ready bombers is adequate for current
and projected needs and that other needs are more pressing than expanding the
bomber force. Air Force Chief of Staff John Jumper, when asked if today’s bomber
fleet is sufficient for future challenges, replied: “There’s nothing I’ve seen that
informs me we don’t have enough bombers.”6
The Air Force contends that the current bomber force is sufficient because
bombers today are vastly more capable than in the past. Where previously several
bombers and scores of bombs were required to eliminate a single target, today a
single bomber can reliably destroy a dozen or more targets using precision weapons.
Thus the Air Force and others turn around the argument that increased capabilities
have increased demand for bombers to reason that increased capabilities mean fewer
bombers are needed. Moreover, the Air Force is developing smaller and more
precise weapons that will enable bombers and other aircraft to attack more targets
with great accuracy. A 500 lb. version of the JDAM and the 250 lb. Small Diameter
Bomb (SDB) will greatly increase the capabilities of existing bombers in coming
years, and even smaller weapons are planned. Improved accuracy, it is hoped, will
give these smaller munitions the same destructive power as today’s larger, less
Today the B-2 carries sixteen 2,000 lb. JDAMs, but soon it will carry an
estimated eighty 500 lb. JDAMs, which are scheduled to debut in 2004. General
Jumper believes these new weapons will reduce the number of bombers needed: “Ten
B-2 bombers with 90 weapons each will take care of the target decks that we have
prepared for conflicts in most parts of the world.”7 Each B-2 is anticipated to carry
over 300 SDBs, which are expected in 2007.8 Thus, 21 B-2s could theoretically
attack over 6,000 separate targets in a single operation. Today, such an attack would
require nearly 400 B-2s, assuming 16 weapons each.
Bomber supporters counter that the math doesn’t always translate to the
battlefield. If the United States were to face two simultaneous conflicts, for example,
the 16 combat-coded B-2s would be stretched thin regardless of how many bombs
each carries. Moreover, enhanced capability has increased, not decreased, demand
for bombers in recent conflicts. Lastly, bomber advocates note that neither the 500
lb. JDAM nor the SDB has been successfully fielded yet, and it may be imprudent
to make decisions about the future size of the bomber inventory based on weapons
that have not yet been deployed.
6 John Roos. “Holding the Heading: Air Force Chief Shares His View of Transformational
Activities.” Armed Forces Journal International. May 2002.
8 John Tirpak. “Bomber Questions.” Air Force Magazine. September 2001.
Next Generation Bomber
A key consideration regarding a next-generation long-range bomber is when to
begin a development program. Other questions that may confront Congress include
the desired characteristic of a future bomber and how it will fit into a future fleet
Urgency. How urgent is the need for a next generation bomber program?
Current Air Force plans call for a new long-range bomber to come on line in 2037,
about the time when it predicts that corrosion, fatigue, or other problems will render
substantial numbers of existing bombers inoperable. The Air Force’s 1999 bomber
roadmap states that 190 bombers are needed to fulfill its long-range strike mission
requirements and estimates that the numbers of existing bombers will drop below9
that level in 2037.
Figure 1. Economic Service Life and Attrition
U.S. Air Force White Paper on Long Range Bombers. March 1, 1999
The bomber roadmap laid out the following schedule for research and
development of a next generation bomber that would enter service in 2037:
Mission Area Assessment2013
Mission Needs Statement2014
New Acquisition Program2019
Initial Operational Capability2037
9 U.S. Air Force White Paper on Long Range Bombers. March 1, 1999.
The House Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, contending that
a new bomber will be needed before 2037, recently added $100 million to the Bush
Administration’s FY2004 budget request to accelerate research and development of
a next generation bomber.10 The Armed Services Committee expressed concern that
the Air Force’s schedule will not ensure a sufficient bomber force for future
requirements and states that it expects the Air Force to update its Future Years
Defense Program to include funding to develop and procure a new bomber “well
prior” to its previous plan.11
The arguments put forward by advocates of a new bomber include the
!The need for more and better long-range, high-payload strike aircraft
that can penetrate advanced air defenses.
!The old age and vulnerability of the B-52. The youngest B-52 is
now over 40 years old. While its remarkable durability and
flexibility has sustained the B-52’s relevance, at some point fatigue
will catch up to it. Additionally, because the B-52 lacks
sophisticated defenses and is easily detected by radar, its capabilities
are limited unless enemy defenses have been suppressed.
!The possibility that the United States will be denied access to
overseas bases for future conflicts.
!The heavy reliance on bombers in recent conflicts.
Bomber advocates’ contend that the Air Force tends to be biased toward fighter
aircraft and has chronically underfunded bomber programs. One noted aviation
They (USAF leaders) recoil at the idea of sending Air Force fighter pilots intost
air-to-air combat during the first decade of the 21 century in F-15C, which were
first built in the 1970s, but upgraded and produced into the 1990s. Yet, they
apparently have no qualms about condemning bomber pilots to fly the ancient B-
decades of the 21 century.
These observers argue that the Air Force gives priority to fighters because the
generals who run the service tend to be tactical fighter pilots. Their bias, some say,
is indicated by the increasingly lopsided ratio of dollars invested in tactical fighters
versus bombers, which increased from slightly less than 5:1 in 1999 to more than13
10 House Committee on Armed Services, “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2004,”
H.Rept. 108-106 (H.R. 1588), p. 221. House Committee on Appropriations, “Department
of Defense Appropriations Bill, 2004,” H.Rept. 108-187 (H.R. 2658), p. 269.
11 House Armed Services Committee, “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2004,”
H.Rept. 108-106 (H.R. 1588), p. 221.
12 Williamson Murray. “U.S. Needs New Bomber, Not more Fighters.” Aviation Week &
Space Technology. March 27, 2002. p.66.
tactical fighters and bombers in the Air Force inventory: in 1950, the ratio of fighters
to bombers was two to one, but by the late 1990s, the ratio had grown to 16 to one,
meaning that less than 5% of the service’s 4,000 aircraft were bombers.14
The Air Force has opposed accelerating development of a follow-on bomber
because it believes other priorities are more urgent. Major General Dan Leaf,
Director of Air Force Operational Requirements, has said that “we can’t realistically
afford to modernize everything at once.” Fielding the future strike platform “is not
as pressing a problem...as continued modernization of the fighters.”15 Leaf also
argues that the Air Force plan favors fighter modernization not only because fighter
capabilities need to be upgraded, but also because there have not been major
technological leaps that apply to bombers. “The next generation bomber study...led
the service to postpone development of a future strike platform because ‘there wasn’t
significant technological advance anticipated in the near term to merit going forward
right now,’” Leaf explained.16 Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper also
states that existing bombers, including the venerable B-52, meet foreseeable needs:
“...there’s nothing that would prompt me to begin retiring the B-52s that continue to
work very well and carry large loads.”17
Desired Capabilities. What characteristics should a next-generation bomber
have? Among the factors to be considered are range, payload, speed, unit cost,
stealth, and whether the aircraft will be manned or unmanned. Reportedly, Air
Combat Command (ACC) is examining four options:
!The B-3: An upgraded version of the B-2 that has greater payload
and range along with better stealth and communications.
!Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle (HCV): An aircraft that would operate
in the upper atmosphere at “hypersonic” speeds (Mach 12). It would
be virtually invulnerable to enemy defenses because of its speed and
altitude and could reach east Asia from the continental United States18
in less than two hours.
!A high-altitude, low-cost unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV)
with a range of 17,000 nautical miles and a payload of 4,000 lbs.
!A lower-flying, stealthy UCAV.19
14 Laura Colarusso. “Analysts: USAF Bomber Force Dangerously Close to Serious
Disconnect.” Inside the Air Force. October 19, 2001.
15 Laura Colarusso. “Future Strike Platform Takes Back Seat to Fighter Modernization.
Inside the Air Force. March 1, 2002. Undersecretary of Defense Aldridge makes similar
arguments in “Interim Bomber?” Aerospace Daily. August 12, 2002.
17 John Roos. “Holding the Heading: Air Force Chief Shares His View of Transformational
Activities.” Armed Forces Journal International. May 2002.
18 “Hypersoar,” [http://www.globalsecurity.com]. Accessed on 7/22/2003.
19 Laura Colarusso. “Future Strike Platform Takes Back Seat to Fighter Modernization.”
Inside the Air Force. March 1, 2002.
There are two general approaches to developing a next generation bomber: “leap
ahead” and “incremental.” The former favors the development of expensive,
revolutionary technologies, while the latter prefers to build upon existing
technologies. The Air Force appears to favor a leap ahead approach. Former Chief
of Staff General Mike Ryan states the Air Force “wants to make a big leap in
capability with its next strategic system...we need to go to the next level of strike
capability, beyond the B-2.”20
Supporters of the leap ahead approach argue that competitors may arise to
challenge U.S. air power in the future. The proliferation of advanced Russian surface-
to-air missiles, for example, is just a hint of the kind of weapons that may emerge
tomorrow. Potential adversaries are also developing anti-access systems and
techniques like GPS jamming, “anti-stealth” radars, and terminal defenses that will
require serious technological advances to defeat, they argue.
Incrementalists, on the other hand, point out that the United States has
dominated the air in every conflict since Vietnam, and especially since the Persian
Gulf War in 1991. They argue that while we should improve on today’s capabilities,
we can strive toward cost effective solutions. Developing leap ahead capabilities will
be difficult and expensive — Air Force officials say that research into hypersonics
has advanced little beyond the X-30 National Aerospace Plane, which was cancelled
in 1995.21 Yet it is unclear that we need such exotic capabilities in tomorrow’s long-
range bombers. Retired Air Force General Richard Hawley argues, for example, that
It is not even clear that supersonic flight is a desirable, much less required
attribute for a future long-range strike platform. From the standpoint of military
utility, loiter capability appears more valuable than speed, given the strategic
premium now being placed on dealing with mobile and other time-critical22
Incrementalists believe tomorrow’s bomber could leverage existing platforms
and technologies. Adapting technologies developed for the F/A-22, for example, or
outfitting the Global Hawk UAV with more powerful engines and state-of-the-art
weapons such as the Small Diameter Bomb, might be cost-effective ways to expand
strike capabilities. Some even argue that commercial aircraft such as the 767 could
serve as the foundation of a new bomber. Savings would be achieved by using parts
and structures built in large numbers for airlines.23 Because the United States can
achieve air supremacy quickly and because bombs have become so accurate, some
incrementalists argue that bombers have essentially become “trucks” for hauling
large quantities of ordnance over great distances. They argue that only a few
bombers with expensive capabilities such as stealth and supersonic speed are needed.
20 John Tirpak. “Bomber Questions.” Air Force Magazine. September 2001.
21 Nick Cook. “USAF Hones Future Bomber Requirement.” Jane’s Defence Weekly. January
22 General Richard Hawley and John Backshies. “Closing the Global Strike Gap.” Armed
Forces Journal International. September 2001.
23 Robert Wall. “USAF Bomber Plans Spark Renewed Debate.” Aviation Week & Space
Technology. April 2000. p.30.
There is an important role, they say, for cheap, commercially-derived aircraft that
simply carry lots of weapons and fuel.
Fleet Diversity Versus Uniformity. DOD currently operates three different
bombers. This diversity offers advantages in terms of planning flexibility in different
types of conflicts. At the same time, diversity challenges enemy air defenses because
a system that may be effective against one plane might be ineffective against another.
Further, diversity avoids “single point failure.” If one bomber were to experience a
serious problem such as airframe fatigue, a software bug, or vulnerability to a new
air defense technology, other types of bombers may not be affected.
While fleet diversity has advantages, it also has drawbacks, primarily in terms
of cost. Describing the current bomber force, General Richard Hawley remarked:
The fact is that we’ve got three small fleets of airplanes...every time you own a
fleet of airplanes, you incur a lot of overhead cost....You have to fund that
overhead for each system so we’re carrying three software maintenance facilities.
We’re funding three small armies of engineers to support each of these three24
bombers and what we ought to do is neck down to one bomber.
As a point of reference, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program was designed in
part to reduce the costs of fleet diversity. The JSF attempts to reduce operations,
maintenance and training costs by increasing the commonality between the Air Force,
Navy, and Marine Corps variants of the aircraft, while maintaining enough diversity
so that one basic platform will satisfy the unique requirements of three different
users.25 Policy makers will have to weigh the costs and benefits of fleet diversity
when contemplating a next generation bomber.
24 Laura Colarusso. “Analysts: USAF Bomber Force Dangerously Close to Serious
Disconnect.” Inside the Air Force. October 19, 2001.
25 For more information on the JSF, see CRS Report RL30563.
The 40-year-old B-52 has remained relevant to a changing battlefield. Although
nuclear strikes were its primary mission during the Cold War, the B-52 has carried
out important non-nuclear missions in conflicts going back to the Vietnam War. Air
Force Secretary James Roche stated recently that the B-52 has transformed three
times in its history, from a high-level bomber to a low-level intruder to a stand-off
cruise missile carrier to a close air-support aircraft.26 The B-52 is the only platform
that can operate with more than 20 types of bombs and cruise missiles in the U. S.
inventory. In high-threat areas where enemy defenses are robust, B-52s employ air-
launched cruise missiles (20 per aircraft) to attack ground targets from a distance.
In low-threat environments such as Afghanistan or Iraq, B-52s can use JDAM
precision bombs or various gravity bombs.
Figure 2. B-52 Stratofortress
Eighty five B-52s are on active duty and nine are in the reserve. Of these, 44 are
combat ready. In accordance with plans stated in the 1992 Bomber Road Map, all
G models have been retired, and their role has been assumed by H models, which
have more powerful engines, longer range, and lower operating cost. According to
current Air Force plans, B-52s will remain in service through 2037 when a next
generation bomber should come on line.
26 Lance M. Bacon, “Think Bombers Are Bad Now? Just See What They Get Next,” Air
Force Times, June 16, 2003.
B-52 Consolidation. For several years, the Air Force has tried to retire 18
B-52s. Much like the B-1 consolidation plan, the rationale is to save money that
could be spent to improve the readiness and effectiveness of the remaining aircraft.
Air Force officials argue that these 18 “attrition reserve” aircraft are unneeded.
According to a March 1999 USAF White Paper on Long Range Bombers (p.2, 21),27
the Air Force needs only 76 B-52s to support its full range of mission taskings. In
July 2001, Air Force Secretary James Roche reiterated the Air Force’s desire to retire28
18 B-52s. Congress has consistently resisted this retirement, citing the lack of an
active bomber production line and the importance of the long range bomber force.
In June 2001, the House Appropriations Committee refused to sanction a move that
would have prevented upgrade of 18 B-52s.29 In several recent years, Congress has
increased funding for B-52 operations and maintenance and has directed the Air
Force to keep all 93 in the inventory.
Electronic Warfare. With the EA-6B Prowler approaching the end of its
service life, the Air Force has explored adding radar jamming equipment to B-52s as
part of the Air Force’s diversified approach to jamming. B-52s, which are
vulnerable in high-threat environments to enemy air defenses, would serve primarily
in a standoff jamming role while other aircraft would conduct close-in jamming. The
Air Force stresses that B-52s equipped with jamming equipment would retain their
full capabilities as bombers and would not become dedicated electronic warfare30
aircraft. Some have suggested that converting the 18 attrition reserve B-52s into
electronic jamming platforms could have the additional benefit of satisfying
Congress’ desire to keep these aircraft active as a hedge against potential future
needs.31 The Air Force has not made final decisions about future radar jamming
plans and, at present, lacks funding for a B-52 electronic warfare program.
Electronics. The 1999 Air Force White Paper on Long Range Bombers (p.7)
stated that improving situational awareness is the “highest priority modification
needed for the B-52.” The Situational Awareness Defensive Improvement program
will attempt to improve B-52 situational awareness by significantly upgrading the
AN/ALR-46 radar warning receiver. Valued at $48 million in 2000, the program will
run through 2003. Work was also started in 2000 on the Avionics Mid Life
27 Adam Herbert. “With Law On Its Side, Air Force Ignores Congressional B-52 Language.”
Inside The Air Force. August 11, 2000, p. 1.
28 “Air Force Secretary Says He Intends To Cut B-52 Fleet.” InsideDefense.com. July 16,
29 Aerospace Daily. “House panel rejects $30 million cut for B-52 modifications.”June 13,
30 Robert Wall, “Jammer Bomber: B-52’s electronic attack role faces funding, technical
roadblocks,” Aviation Week, June 2, 2003.
31 Robert Wall and David A. Fulghum. “Air Force Embraces Jammer, But Plots Independent
Course.” Aviation Week and Space Technology. May, 27, 2002, vol. 156.
Improvement (AMI). AMI is a five year contract, valued at $108 million, and will
replace three key offensive avionics component subsystems: the avionics computers,
the inertial navigation, and the data transfer system. The AMI underwent successful
testing in May 2003 and the entire fleet is scheduled to receive the upgrade by 2007.32
Engines. Since 1996, the Air Force has explored replacing the B-52’s engines
to improve performance and lower costs. After a lull, interest has been renewed by
a March 2003 report form the Defense Science Board (DSB) unanimously33
recommending that the Air Force re-engine the B-52 “without delay.” According
to the DSB, replacing the aircraft’s 1950s-era engines with four modern engines
would increase range by 46% while reducing aerial refueling needs and maintenance
costs. The benefits of reengining, particularly less demand on refueling tankers,
would far outweigh the costs, according to the DSB. They state that new engines
would cost $3 to $3.5 billion, but savings would total between $6 and $9 billion
between 2011, when the new engines are completed, and 2037, when the B-52 is
retired. In July 2003, the Air Force asked Boeing to investigate the feasibility of
replacing the B-52’s eight engines with eight modern engines, rather than four as had
been suggested earlier. An eight-engine upgrade could boost the B-52’s performance
and expand is mission possibilities as well as increase efficiency, according to the Air
The Air Force states that although it is interested in re-engining, it does not35
currently have adequate funds. It is exploring alternative funding, such as the
federal Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPC) program, which uses private
sector financing to improve energy efficiency and then pays back investors with the
savings. In early 2003, however, Congress moved to block use of the ESPC for the
B-52 by capping the program at $100 million. Some in Congress apparently objected
to the use of non-appropriated funds, such as the ESPC or a lease arrangement.36
Targeting Pod. Operation Iraqi Freedom marks the first time that a bomber
has been able to laser designate targets for itself. B-52s equipped with the Northrop
Grumman Litening II targeting pod were able to locate and designate targets,
something previously only done by fighters or ground forces.37 Integration of the pod
on the B-52 was originally scheduled for June 2003, but was rushed so that it could
be employed in Iraq, where it was used successfully to destroy targets with laser-
guided bombs. In addition to enabling B-52 crews to locate and designate targets, the
32 Wes Auldridge, “B-52 Undergoes Worldwide Testing,” Air Force Flight Test Center
Public Affairs, May 20, 2003.
33 Michael Sirak and Christopher Stagg, “Fresh Interest Brews to Re-Engine B-52s,” Jane’s
Defense Weekly, April 30, 2003.
34 Stephen Trimble, “Air Force Widens Review of B-52 Re-Engineing Options,” Aerospace
Daily, July 7, 2003.
35 Sirak and Stagg, op. cit.
36 Trimble, op. cit.
37 Lorenzo Cortes, “B-52 Crew Credits Arsenal, Loiter Capability During Operation Iraqi
Freedom,” Defense Daily, May 9, 2003.
pod enables them to personally verify ground-designated targets to prevent errors
such as the accidental designation of friendly troops or civilians. Finally, the pod
enables the crew or others to assess battle damage by recording video of bomb hits.38
SWING. The Air Force plans to continue upgrading the B-52’s capabilities
under the Smart Weapons Integration Next Generation (SWING) program. Under
current plans SWING will arm the aircraft with an extended range version of the
Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD-ER) and the yet-to-be completed 250
lb. precision Small Diameter Bomb, Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD), and
extended range Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM-ER).39 Currently the
B-52 can carry twelve 2,000 lb. JDAMS, while new bay wiring will increase that
number to 20 and permit the aircraft to carry 30 of the 500 lb. JDAM. According to
the Air Force, the B-52 will be able to carry 144 independently targeted SDBs once
SWING is completed. The B-52 would carry 12 JASSMs, each capable of hitting a40
moving target with a 1,000 lb. warhead from a range of 200 miles.
Mission Capable Rate. The B-52 fleet continues to maintain a relatively
high degree of readiness. The B-52 has the highest MCR of all bombers in the force,
and is second to the F-117 for both fighters and bombers.41 Over the past decade
(FY1992 to FY2002), the B-52’s MCR has hovered around 80%, standing at 81% in
FY2002, according to GAO.42
Aging Issues. The Air Force plans to maintain and upgrade the B-52 through
2037. Generally speaking, the B-52’s aging issues include wear and tear of the wings
and fuselage, and metal corrosion. Regarding wear and tear, Air Force Chief of Staff
General John Jumper has expressed his confidence in the B-52’s robustness:
“First, the B-52 is over-engineered by a (very substantial factor). These planes
were built before the age of computer-aided design; the plane’s designers built
it by multiplying by two or three what they felt was needed (structurally). So the43
airplane is built well.”
In 1999, wing upper surface was believed to be the weak link in terms of B-52
wear and tear. The estimated life span of this component is 28,300 flight hours, as
38 Tony Wickman, “B-52 Dons New Upgrade,” Air Force Flight Test Center Public Affairs,
April 9, 2003.
39 “B-52H SWING Plan Includes MALD, SDB, JASSM-ER, and WCMD-ER,” Defense
Daily, May 21, 2003.
40 Lance M. Bacon, “Think Bombers Are Bad Now? Just See What They Get Next,” Air
Force Times, June 16, 2003.
41 Bruce Rolfsen. “The B-52’s Big 5-0.” Air Force Times. April 15, 2002, p. 14.
42 “Military Readiness: DOD Needs a Clear and Defined Process for Setting Aircraft
Availability Goals in the New Security Environment,” GAO, April 2003.
43 John Roos. “Holding the Heading Air Force chief Shares His View of Transformational
Activities.” Armed Forces Journal International. May 2002.
opposed to 42,000 hours for the fuselage, 44,800 hours for the horizontal stabilizer,
and 73,500 hours for the wing lower surface. As of May 2003, the average B-52 has
completed 15,858 flight miles, while the oldest has completed 20,709.44
Corrosion has become a concern for the KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft, and
some fear that corrosion will force that aircraft into early retirement. Because the
KC-135 and B-52 are approximately the same age, it has been suggested that
corrosion may become a problem for the Stratofortress. Thus far, however, fatigue,
caused by wear and tear, appears to be a greater concern than corrosion for the B-52.
Before Desert Storm, the B-52 was used in Vietnam both for close air support
and area bombing. Its success, manifest during Linebacker II (the Hanoi bombing
in 1972) was mitigated in part by heavy losses: 15 aircraft were lost to enemy fire in
the two weeks of that operation
Desert Storm (Iraq, 1991). On the second day of combat, 80 B-52s flying
from the continental U.S. and four overseas locations fired Conventional Air-
Launched Cruise Missiles (CALCMs) with 2,000 lb. warheads. On January 17,
1991, seven B-52s flew from Louisiana on a 35 hour-mission, at the time the longest
sortie ever. B-52s flew 414 missions against targets in Iraq. No aircraft were lost to
enemy fire, but one crashed in the Indian Ocean returning to Diego Garcia. Three
crew members lost their lives. The aircraft dropped 27,500 tons of ordnance in 1,624
sorties — 31% of all U.S. bombs and 41% of all Air Force bombs employed during45
Operation Desert Fox (Iraq, 1998). Two B-52s operated from Diego
Garcia, and launched approximately 90 Block 1 3,000 lb. CALCMs equipped with46
an improved guidance system. The Block 1 CALCMs were considered twice as
accurate as those used in Desert Storm.
Operation Allied Force (Kosovo). B-52s operating from Fairford, England
launched CALCMs and 11,000 bombs in 270 missions during the 1999 Operation
Allied Force attacks on Yugoslavia. B-52s also employed the AGM-142 Have Nap,
a jointly developed U.S.-Israeli missile.
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). Many observers have
lauded the B-52’s performance in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Operating from Diego Garcia, B-52s were able to loiter for extended periods, and
dropped weapons on targets designated by ground forces, including mobile targets.
Using precision bombs, B-52s were able to provide close air support from altitudes
44 Lance M. Bacon, “Think Bombers Are Bad Now? Just See What They Get Next,” Air
Force Times, June 16, 2003.
45 Airpower in Operation Desert Storm, USAF Fact Sheet 91-03 Special Edition. May 1991.
46 Robert Wall. “New Weapons Debut In Attacks on Iraq.” Aviation Week and Space
Technology. December 28, 1998, vol. 149, No. 25, p. 14.
above 30,000 feet while also hitting traditional targets. This mission flexibility was
made possible by training conducted a year before the campaign began.47
Support to Northern Alliance fighters from B-52s was crucial to the fall of
Mazar-e-Sharif, a key battle in the war. Prior to the B-52’s employment, ground
forces were stalemated.48 From mid-January to the end of March 2002, B-52s flew
Qaeda positions. Illustrating its payload diversity, the B-52s employed JDAMs,
Mk82 bombs, Wind-corrected Munition cluster bombs, and 115 M-129 leaflet-
Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003). B-52s also played an important role in50
the recent war in Iraq, where 28 of the aircraft conducted 280 combat sorties. B-52
crews credited the plane’s ability to carry a wide variety of weapons and its ability
to loiter over battlefields as the key to its success. They also lauded the Litening II
targeting pod, which enabled them to designate targets themselves for the first time.51
The B-52 was also praised for being the among the few platforms able to continue
operating during a sandstorm: when the storm grounded helicopters and forced
fighter strike packages to turn around, B-52s armed with 500 lb. bombs flew over the
storm and devastated Iraqi mechanized forces that were trying to maneuver under52
cover of the storm.
The acquisition costs for the 744 bombers are indicated in Table 4, a total of53
$4,916 million, with the unit cost varying between $30 million and $74 million.
47 Frank Wolfe. “Bombers Able To Use Flexible Targeting For Afghan Campaign.” Defense
Daily. October 26, 2001
48 “Power of B-52s Proves Telling As In Gulf War, Heavy Bombers Pave Way For Military
Successes in Afghanistan.” Dayton Daily News. November 28, 2001.
49 Bruce Rolfsen. “The B-52’s Big 5-0.” Air Force Times. April 15, 2002. p.14.
50 Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, “Operation Iraqi Freedom — By The Numbers,” U.S. Air
Force, April 30, 2003.
51 Lorenzo Cortes, “B-52 Crew Credits Arsenal, Loiter Capability During Operation Iraqi
Freedom,” Defense Daily, May 9, 2003.
52 Lance M. Bacon, “Think Bombers Are Bad Now? Just See What They Get Next,” Air
Force Times, June 16, 2003.
53 Heather Kirkwood. “Mechanics’ Creativity Keeps 50-year-old B-52s In The Air.” South
China Morning Post. 29 April 2002.
Table 4. B-52 Appropriations, by Year
($ Millions Then-Year)
Y e ar RDT&E P r ocurement Q uantity M ilcon Total
FY198116.3460.1The last B-52 (H476.4
produced in 1961
and procured withFY198390532.2622.2
FY1986 16 451.2 467.2
FY1987 10 397.2 407.2
FY1988 13 238.7 251.7
FY1990 181.7 181.7
FY1993 22 76.7 98.7
FY1994 6.3 37.4 43.7
FY1997 11.6 20.2 30.8
FY1999 6.4 38.3 42.1
FY2000 40.1 24.8 64.9
FY2001 50.7 42.5 93
FY2002 66.8 14.3 85
FY2003 55.7 24.7 80.4
T otal 628.4 4,288.0 4,916.4
Administration Request. The Administration requested $61.1 million in
procurement funds and $28.6 million in RDT&E for avionics upgrades.
Authorization. The House Armed Services Committee (HR1588) authorized
$80.1 million, $19 million more than the Administration’s procurement request. The
increase funds Litening II targeting pod integration. The House Committee matched
the Administration’s R&D request of $28.6 million. The Senate Armed Services
Committee (S1050) matched the Administration’s requests for both procurement and
Appropriation. The House Appropriations Committee (HR2658) reduced
procurement for the Offensive Avionics System by $9.2 million, bringing total B-52
procurement down to $51.9 million. The Committee did not add any funds for the
Litening II pod as the Armed Services Committee did. The House Appropriations
Committee left the RDT&E request unchanged at $28.6 million. The Senate
Appropriations Committee (S1382) added $17 million to the Administration’s
procurement request, for a total of $78 million. They matched the Administration’s
request for RDT&E.
Like all the long-range bombers currently serving in the Air Force, the B-1B was
designed to carry nuclear weapons deep into Soviet territory during the Cold War.
The plane’s supersonic speed, reduced radar signature, and large payload gave it
important advantages over the B-52, even though its range was shorter. Since the
end of the Cold War, the Air Force has adapted the B-1B to carry conventional
weapons, although its value in conventional warfare has only been tested in the recent
conflicts in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003). The B-1B has the largest payload
capacity of the three bombers and can carry a broad array of precision and non-
precision weapons. Ongoing upgrades will increase the variety of weapons it can
carry and will enable it to deliver three different munitions to separate targets in a
single sortie, a first among U.S. warplanes.
Figure 3. B-1B Lancer
Source: USAF Photo by MSgt. Rose Reynolds
The B-1 entered service in 1986 and the total order of 100 aircraft was
completed in 1988. However, the plane has been controversial throughout its history.
In 1977, President Carter cancelled the program in development, believing that
existing air- and sea-launched missiles provided adequate nuclear strike capability.
President Reagan revived the B-1 program in 1981, and following modifications to
the original design, the plane was designated the B-1B. After it sat out or played
marginal roles in the conflicts of the 1990s, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
suggested in 2001 that the B-1 be retired. In response, the Air Force decided to
reduce the B-1 fleet by roughly one third, or 33 aircraft. Although the retirement
process is underway, supporters of the B-1 in Congress and elsewhere are fighting
to reinstate all or some of the decommissioned planes. They argue that the B-1’s
performance in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate its value on the modern battlefield.
Debate over the future of the plane continues. Under current plans, the Air Force will
maintain and upgrade the B-1B for service through 2040, by which time a new long-
range bomber should enter the fleet.54
Consolidation. In early 2001, advisors to Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld suggested that the Air Force retire the entire B-1B fleet.55 A study
commissioned by Rumsfeld highlighted the B-1 as one of four programs least
compatible with the Pentagon’s future plans. The study recommended that DOD
place higher priority on B-2 and B-52 modernization and consider purchasing more
B-2s to replace the B-1 in the fleet.56 At the time, the Air Force was $2 billion short
in modernization funds for the B-1B. To address this shortfall without eliminating
the plane, the Air Force opted to retire a third of the fleet, reducing the number of B-
1s to 60 from 93 and consolidating basing to two active duty locations from three
active duty and two Air National Guard locations.
When the Air Force publicly justified its consolidation plan, it cited not only5758
budgetary constraints, but also the need to improve B-1 maintenance and supply.
The B-1 has historically suffered from severe parts shortages that forced technicians
to “cannibalize” parts from one plane to keep others flying: by 2001 the plane had
the highest cannibalization rates in the Air Force by a wide margin. Parts shortages
also contributed to some of the lowest mission capable rates in the Air Force in the
late 1990s and 2000s.59 Further, the B-1 is among the most expensive planes to fly,
costing $14,343 per flying hour, or more than double the cost for either the B-2 or the
54 U.S. Air Force Long-Range Strike Aircraft White Paper. November 2001, p. 27.
55 Jefferson Morris, “GAO Criticizes Air Force on Handling of B-1B Consolidation,”
Aerospace Daily, September 9, 2002.
56 Lance M. Bacon, “Back in the Big Game,” Air Force Times, June 16, 2003. See also Jim
Garamone. “Conventional Forces Group Makes Report to Rumsfeld.” American Forces
Press Service. June 26, 2001.
57 Robert Wall. “B-1B Backers, Air Force Clash Over Bomber Ax.” Aviation Week and
Space Technology. July 16, 2001, and General John Jumper’s confirmation hearing excerpts.
Air Force Magazine. October 2001, p. 39.
58 Darren Heusel. Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center Public Affairs, “Maintainers
overcome challenges to keep B-1Bs flying.” Air Force News Archive. March 29, 2002 and
Drew Brown. “Pentagon Officials Stand By B-1 Move.” Macon Telegraph. June 30, 2001.
59 See “Readiness” below.
60 “Military Readiness: DOD Needs a Clear and Defined Process for Setting Aircraft
Availability Goals in the New Security Environment,” GAO, April 2003.
Another argument behind consolidation is that with more and more effective
precision weapons, a single bomber is vastly more capable than in the past. In
Operation Desert Storm in Iraq (1991), for example, numerous bombs and possibly
multiple sorties were needed to destroy individual targets; in Operation Iraqi
Freedom (2003), however, a single bomber could reliably destroy as many as two
dozen separate targets.
Effects of Consolidation. The Air Force reports that consolidation has
brought substantial savings and improved performance to the remaining B-1 fleet for
two reasons. First, consolidation has expedited modernization of the remaining fleet
because, according to an Air Force spokesman, “the USAF is aggressively
reinvesting dollars saved from the B-1 consolidation to significantly increase the61
capabilities of the remaining aircraft.” In the first year since consolidation, savings
amounted to $130 million according to the Air Force.62 Initial estimates pegged total
consolidation savings over five years at $1.4 billion, but subsequent estimates
lowered that figure to roughly $800 million.63 Second, consolidation has boosted B-1
performance both by reducing the demand for spare parts and by enabling the Air
Force to take needed parts from retired planes. By early 2003, the cannibalization
rate had dropped dramatically, while the mission capable rates during Operation Iraqi
Freedom have been the highest yet reported for the aircraft — 79%.
Criticism of the Consolidation Plan. A September 2002 GAO study
criticized the plan for failing to analyze how the reduction would affect national
security needs or detailing how the Air Force would replace the capabilities of the
lost B-1’s using other aircraft. The study also found that the Air Force was
inconsistent in its methodology for implementing consolidation and incomplete in
estimating savings.64 The GAO report further criticized the decision to move planes
from the Air National Guard to active duty, finding that Guard units had lower flying
hour costs, higher mission capable rates, and more experienced crews.65 A 1998
GAO report argued that moving B-1s from active duty to the National Guard could
save millions of dollars while maintaining bombing capabilities.66
Others have criticized the B-1 consolidation for failing to live up to its promise.
The primary justification for reducing the number of aircraft was to free up funds to
modernize the remaining aircraft. Yet, the Air Force subsequently cancelled the B-
61 Hampton Stephens, “Air Force Neglects B-1 Defensive System Upgrades in FY-04 POM,”
December 13, 2002.
62 Lance M. Bacon, “Back in the Big Game,” Air Force Times, June 16, 2003.
63 Robert Wall. “B-1B Fights Demotion In Combat Role.” Aviation Week and Space
Technology. June 24, 2002. David Castellon. “B-1B Blunder? GAO Finds Air Force’s B-1B
Cuts Might Not Be So Cost-Effective After All.” Air Force Times. July 15, 2002.
64 Jefferson Morris, “GAO Criticizes Air Force on Handling of B-1B Consolidation,”
Aerospace Daily, September 9, 2002.
65 Jefferson Morris, op. cit.
66 “Air Force Bombers: Moving More B-1s to the Reserves Could Save Millions Without
Reducing Mission Capabilities.” GAO/NSIAD-98-64. February 1998. Washington, DC.
have important implications for the future utility of the B-1. Without an upgrade to
its defenses, the B-1 may lose its ability to penetrate even meager enemy anti-aircraft
systems. The B-1 would then essentially become a standoff platform like the B-52,
and the only remaining long-range, high-payload aircraft capable of penetrating air
defenses would be the 16 combat-ready B-2s. Critics of consolidation question
whether the Air Force needs additional standoff aircraft and whether 16 long-range
bombers capable of penetration missions is enough. These critics also ask why the
B-1’s capabilities should be downgraded substantially when the purpose of the
consolidation was to free up funds for upgrades.
Reinstatement of Retired B-1s. Some members of Congress have fought
the consolidation plan since it was first proposed. The decision concerned some in
Congress because DOD did not consult with them beforehand. Shortly after the plan
was announced in 2001, Senator Larry Craig introduced an amendment to the
FY2001 Defense Supplemental Appropriations Bill to prevent DOD from using
money authorized or appropriated in that year to implement the consolidation plan.67
This amendment was withdrawn. On August 1, 2001 the House Armed Services
Committee amended the FY2002 Defense Authorization bill to prevent B-168
consolidation at the request of Representative Saxby Chambliss. In conference,
however, Congress modified its position and required the Air Force to conduct a
study of the bomber force structure before proceeding with consolidation (Sec. 1032.
H.Rept. 107-333, S. 1438).
In 2003, the House Armed Services and Appropriations Committees added
$20.3 million, plus additional funds for construction, personnel, and base operations,
to the Administration’s FY2004 request to begin the reconstitution of 23 B-1s that
had been slated for retirement. The Armed Services Committee stated that the
aircraft’s “contributions were crucial to the success of both operations [Enduring69
Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom].” Some members of Congress
expressed concern that the reduced B-1 fleet could leave too few bombers to meet70
demand. Air Combat Command presently keeps 36 B-1Bs at combat-ready status,
with the remaining planes undergoing maintenance or upgrades, being used in
training, or being retired. During the recent war in Iraq, roughly 12 of these were
deployed to support the war and another 12 were deployed to Guam in case of an
emergency on the Korean Peninsula, leaving 12 combat-ready planes as backup for
the Iraq war or for contingencies elsewhere.71
68 Kerry Gildea. “HASC Move Stalls Air Force Plan To Move Bombers.” Defense Daily.
August 2, 2001.
69 House Armed Services Committee, “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2004,”
H.Rept. 108-106 (H.R. 1588), p. 95.
70 Lori Lessner. “B1 Battle Takes Off: Kansans In Congress Battle Those Who Say The
Plane Is Not Worth Its Cost.” Wichita Eagle. July 2, 2001.
71 David A. Fulghum and Robert Wall, “Baghdad Confidential,” Aviation Week, April 28,
Within the Air Force, there is some concern that reinstating the 23 bombers will
lead to a return to the spare-parts shortages of past years. According to an Air Force
spokesman, the FY2004 funding authorized by the House Armed Services
Committee would not go far in reinstating and modernizing the planes, let alone
ensuring adequate future parts supplies.72 The Air Force has estimated that it will
need an additional $1 billion in operations and maintenance funding through FY2009
to operate the 23 planes, and the House Armed Services Committee, in its FY2004
authorization bill, “strongly urges” DOD to budget an additional $1.1 billion for the
B-1B reconstitution in future year requests.73 Despite its concerns about funding,
some within the Air Force do believe more B-1s are needed, pointing out that two
thirds of the combat-ready fleet was deployed during Iraqi Freedom’ leaving an
inadequate buffer against other potential conflicts.74 Separately, B-1 supporters
within the Air Force, together with advocates at Boeing, are pushing for the
reinstatement of 12 retired aircraft.75
New Basing for the B-1B. Under the consolidation plan, B-1Bs formerly
associated with the Georgia and Kansas Air National Guard have been removed from
Robins and McConnell Air Force Bases (AFBs), respectively (9 aircraft each). The
seven aircraft stationed at Mountain AFB in Idaho were also removed. The 60
remaining aircraft are now based only at Dyess AFB near Abilene, Texas (which lost
8 aircraft and now houses 32) and Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota (which retains 26
B-1Bs). The remaining two aircraft are used for testing at Edwards AFB near Los
Alternative Air National Guard (ANG) Missions. Under the
consolidation plan, the 184th Bomb Wing, located at McConnell AFB, was re-tasked
in September 2002 with 10 KC-135, becoming the 184th Air Refueling Wing. The
116th Bomb Wing, located at Robins AFB, has become the 116th Air Control Wing
operating E-8 JSTARS surveillance aircraft.
72 Tara Copp, “Congress Could Reinstate 23 B-1 Bombers,” Scripps Howard News Source,
May 15, 2003.
73 House Armed Services Committee, “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2004,”
H.Rept. 108-106 (H.R. 1588), p. 95.
74 Stephen Trimble, “USAF Estimates $1B Cost for Changing B-1B Retirement,” Aerospace
Daily, June 2, 2003.
75 Stephen Trimble, “B-1B’s War Achievements Spur New Upgrade Proposals,” Aerospace
Daily, May 7, 2003.
The Conventional Munition Upgrade Program (CMUP). The CMUP,
which began in FY1992, is a 15 year program comprised of several blocks. Its
original purpose was to convert the B-1B from a nuclear to a conventional bomber,
while current and planned upgrades aim to improve the mission capable rate, increase
weapon flexibility, and incorporate new communications and defensive systems.
Block E (Wind Corrected Munition Dispenser (WCMD) Integration
and Computer Upgrade). Block E is a computer systems upgrade intended to
increase the roster of precision weapons the B-1B can carry and enable it to attack
three different targets with three different types of munitions in a single sortie. The
upgrade will add the Joint Stand-off Weapon (JSOW), the Joint Air-to Surface
Stand-off Weapon (JASSM), and the Wind-Corrected Munition Dispenser (WCMD)
to the B-1B’s arsenal, while also improving the plane’s avionics. In 2000, the
upgrade faced a five month delay, half of it due to a strike by contractor engineers.
A May 7, 2002 test demonstrated the B-1’s ability to deliver three different kinds of76
weapons in one pass. The Air Force has three Block E B-1Bs as of June 2003 and
expects to complete the upgrade by late 2004.77
Block F (Defensive System update Program, DSUP). The goal of the
Block F upgrades is to improve the B-1B’s ability to operate in well-defended enemy
territory by providing it with countermeasures to defend against guided missiles. The
upgrade will equip B-1Bs with a defensive system developed by the Navy, the
Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasure (IDECM). The IDECM uses the
ALR-56M radar warning receiver and radio frequency countermeasures and the ALE-
55 towed fiber-optic decoy, a replacement of the Block D ALE 50 towed decoy
system. Block F will not be completed until 2009, assuming the original schedule78
Block F has suffered from technical problems with the ALE-55 fiber optic
towed decoy from BAE Systems. Initial flight tests revealed problems with the
decoy’s in-flight deployment. Boeing, lead integrator for the DSUP, states that
subsequent tests have demonstrated that the problems have been resolved. Still,
Boeing has been exploring alternative decoys at the behest of the Air Force, in
particular the FO-50 from Raytheon.79 Because of delays and cost overruns related
76 Lt. Col. Mark Spillman. “B-1B achieves triple munitions drop, target kill.” Air Force
News Archive. May 9, 2002.
77 Lance M. Bacon, “Think Bombers Are Bad Now? Just See What They Get Next,” Air
Force Times, June 16, 2003.
78 “B-1 Bomber Upgrade Program Falters Again With New Delays, Expenses,” Inside the
Air Force, May 5, 2000.
79 Stephen Trimble, “B-1B’s War Achievements Spur New Upgrade Proposals,” Aerospace
Daily, May 7, 2002, and Hampton Stephens. “Service Pursues Alternative After Trouble
With BAE’s Towed Decoy.” Inside the Air Force. July 5, 2002, vol. 13, n. 27.
to the decoy problems, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees each voted
to cut FY2003 funding for the DSUP, but they restored funding in conference.80
In late 2003, after a series of restructurings and cost overruns,81 the Air Force
chose not to continue funding the DSUP in its FY2004 budget request, leading many
to believe the program has been cancelled. Recognizing that without a defensive
upgrade, the B-1 may lose the ability to penetration enemy ani-aircraft systems, the
Senate Armed Services Committee added FY2004 funding to accelerate development
of an extended range version of the Joint Air to Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM).
The JASSM-ER will enable the B-1 to attack enemy surface targets located in well-
defended areas from a distance.82
BONE (B-One Next Enhancement) Contract. BONE will improve the
targeting capabilities of the B-1 by integrating the Link-16 jam-resistant
communication system and beyond line-of-sight satellite communications. Currently,
B-1 crews receive target coordinates from ground forces or other aircraft by voice;83
the B-1 crew must then manually program the coordinates into the chosen weapon.
The Link-16 system would automate this process, reducing both the time required for
re-targeting and the possibility of human error. The Link-16 program went
underfunded in 2002, but funding was restored in FY2003. Funding for FY2004
meets plans, and the House Armed Services Committee “strongly urged” DOD to
continue the Link-16 program.84
Readiness has long been a challenge for the B-1B, but in the past year it appears
that readiness has improved substantially. In 1998, its mission capable rate (MCR)85
fell from the mid-60s to 51% and remained in the low 50s through 2000. A number
of studies conducted since the mid-1990s attributed the low MCR to severe spare86
parts shortages. Some contractors have gone out of business, while others no longer
80 Hampton Stephens, “Appropriators Reverse Course, Fund B-1 Defensive System
Upgrade,” Inside the Air Force, October 11, 2002.
81 Lorenzo Cortes, “Multiple Rebaselinings, Nunn-McCurdy Breaches Doomed B-1 DSUP,
Air Force Says,” Defense Daily, January 30, 2003.
82 Senate Armed Services Committee, “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2004,”
S.Rept. 108-46 (S. 1050), p. 210.
83 David A. Fulghum and Robert Wall, “Baghdad Confidential,” April 28, 2003.
84 House Armed Services Committee, “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2004,”
H.Rept. 108-106 (H.R. 1588), p. 219-220.
85 “Military Readiness: DOD Needs a Clear and Defined Process for Setting Aircraft
Availability Goals in the New Security Environment,” GAO, April 2003.
86 Institute for Defense Analyses Bomber Study. Alexandria, VA. May 1995, and “Military
Readiness: DOD Needs a Clear and Defined Process for Setting Aircraft Availability Goals
in the New Security Environment,” GAO, April 2003.
manufacture B-1B parts.87 Consequently, the B-1B force suffered from
cannibalization rates as high as 85% in 2001, compared to an Air Force average of
11%.88 In the years leading up to consolidation, which reduced the B-1 fleet from 92
to 60, the Air Force operated the B-1 fleet with roughly 20 “attrition reserve” aircraft
used for spare parts.89
Since the Air Force began to institute the consolidation plan, the B-1’s MCR has
improved dramatically, reaching a reported 79% during Operation Iraqi Freedom,
while the cannibalization rated dropped below 50%. Air Force leaders attribute the
improvement to the consolidation because fewer planes now compete for scarce parts
and because remaining aircraft can poach freely from those that have been retired.90
Mishaps (Accidents). The B-1B has historically had the highest mishap rates
of the three bombers and among the highest in the Air Force fleet. Seven out of a
total order of 100 B-1s have been lost to accidents. Through FY2002, the lifetime
Class A mishap rate for the B-1B is 3.30, while the Class B mishap is 9.65.91 The
corresponding lifetime rates for the B-2A were 0.00 and 5.42 while for the B-52 they
were 1.28 and 2.33. B-1 mishaps have been caused by a variety of factors, including
engine fires, electronics systems malfunctions, electronic warfare systems, onboard
electric generators, and landing gear/hydraulics systems.92 In December 2001, a B-1
supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq crashed into the Indian Ocean. The
four-member crew ejected and was rescued, but the plane was destroyed. The Air93
Force has not determined the cause of the crash.
Mishap Costs. Based upon the Air Force definition of class A and class B
mishaps, it is estimated that over the past 18 years, B-1B mishaps have cost between
$18,300,000 and $41,200,000 (13 class A, 26 class B). The former is a conservative
87 Darren Heusel. “Maintainers Overcome Challenges To Keep B-1Bs Flying.” Air Force
News Archive. March 29, 2002.
88 Lance M. Bacon, “Back in the Big Game,” Air Force Times, June 16, 2003.
89 Bruce Rolfsen. “The B-52’s 5-0: The Stratofortress Cuts A Wide Swath - And May See
Another 40 Years Of Service.” Air Force Times. April 15, 2002, p. 14.
90 Lance M. Bacon, “Back in the Big Game,” Air Force Times, June 16, 2003.
91 Data from “B-1 Flight Mishap History,” available on the Air Force Safety Center website
at http://afsafety.af.mil/AFSC/RDBMS/Flight/stats/aircraft_stats.html. The mishap rate is
the number of accidents per 100,000 flight hours. A mishap is Class A if 1) the aircraft is
destroyed or missing, 2) a fatality or an injury resulting in a permanent disability occurs, or
3) total damage exceeds $1 million. A mishap is Class B if 1) an injury results in partial
disability, 2) five or more personnel are hospitalized, or 3) if total damage is between
$200,000 and $1 million.
92 Associated Press. “Engine Flames Out On B-1 Bomber After Takeoff, Sparks Grass Fires”
Fort Worth Star Telegram. March 9, 2000. Lori Lessner. “B1 Battle Takes Off: Kansans In
Congress Battle Those Who Say The Plane Is Not Worth Its Cost.” Wichita Eagle. July 2,
2001. David Atkinson. “B-1s Provided Needed Long-Range Muscle In Air War.” Defense
Daily. June 25, 1999, vol. 202, n. 61. “B-1B Has The Highest Mishap Rate Of Bomber
Fleet, According To Air Force Documents.” Aerospace Daily. December 13, 2001.
93 “B-1B Crash Cause Remains Unknown,” Today’s Air Force News, September 24, 2002.
estimate that does not reflect the fact that class A mishaps can cost much more than
Operation Desert Storm (Iraq). B-1Bs did not participate in Operation
Desert Storm because these aircraft were still not certified to employ conventional95
weapons. Consequently, funding for the B-1 conversion to conventional munitions
began in FY1992.
Operation Desert Fox (Iraq). The B-1B flew its first combat mission during
Operation Desert Fox in 1998. Operating out of bases in Bahrain, three B-1Bs flew
four sorties and attacked three targets.96 They flew with fighter escorts because they
were operating without the ALE-50 towed decoy.
Operation Allied Force (Kosovo). The B-1 saw more action in the air war
over Serbia in 1999. Six block D B-1Bs flew 25 sorties each — 300 total — during
the campaign. The B-1Bs were based in Fairford, England, and needed seven hours
for each trip to Kosovo and back. Ground crews rearmed and refueled the B-1s in
four hours, enabling numerous sorties.97 The planes used 500 lb. Mk-82 gravity
munitions and cluster bombs. The six B-1Bs had the ability to deliver precision
munitions, but because of small inventory of those weapons, they employed only
“dumb bombs.” B-1s in this conflict experienced problems with retained stores:
bombs stuck in the weapons bay.98
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). The B-1 appears to have
been a major contributor to the air campaign in Afghanistan. Some have called the
B-1 the “workhorse” of the conflict because it flew just 5% of the sorties, but
dropped 40% of the ordnance and 70% of the JDAM guided bombs.99 Eight B-1Bs
were based at Diego Garcia, and flew up to four sorties per day. Operation Enduring
94 Air Force Program Acquisition Cost Summary. Selected Acquisition Report (SAR)
Summary Table. December 31, 1992. See also CRS Report RL31571, “Military Aviation
Safety,” by Christopher Bolkcom.
95 General Richard E. Hawley, USAF-Ret. “Swinging The Air Power Pendulum: The Case
For Returning To A Bomber-Centric Attack Force.” Strategic Review, p. 41. Spring 2001.
96 “Beginning with the second night of bombings, the team provided the 28th Air
Expeditionary Group with satellite imagery for B-1B pre-strike mission planning, and post-
strike bomb damage assessment analysis. Prior to take-off, B-1B flight crews familiarized
themselves with targeting updates, near real-time intelligence to enhance situational
awareness, and threat avoidance information, courtesy of the Space Support Teams.” Air
Force Space Command News Service. January 5, 1999.
97 David Atkinson. “B-1s Provided Needed Long-Range Muscle In Air War.” Defense Daily.
June 25, 1999, vol. 202, n. 61.
98 Frank Wolfe. “AF Trying To Fix Retained Weapons Problem On B-1.” Defense Daily.
March 1, 2000, vol. 205, No. 39.
99 Thomas Hargrove, “Oft-Debated Bomber Gets Shot At Saddam,” Scripps Howard News
Source, April 8, 2003.
Freedom marks the first time the B-1 employed the JDAM (24 2,000 lb. JDAMs per
In Enduring Freedom, the B-1B first demonstrated several of the qualities that
supporters say validates the plane. In addition to delivering a large proportion of the
total ordinance dropped, B-1Bs took advantage of their long range by loitering over
battlefields waiting for target information from special forces operatives on the
ground. In another first for the B-1, the plane provided close air support to ground
forces; precision bombs enabled the high-flying bomber to hit targets close to allied
troops, something previously done only by lower-flying attack and fighter aircraft.
B-1 advocates have cited Pentagon data suggesting that the B-1Bs was the most cost-
efficient platform per target killed, but the Pentagon has not publicly compared the
cost per kill statistic of various aircraft.100
Operation Iraqi Freedom. The B-1 took on an even larger role in Iraq.
Eleven B-1s stationed in Oman conducted 225 sorties (six to seven daily) or roughly
one percent of all combat sorties flown, yet they dropped 24% of the overall weapon
tonnage and nearly half of the total number of precision guided JDAMs dropped by101
allied aircraft. Again commanders took advantage of the B-1B’s large payload and
ability to loiter over battlefields for more than 10 and a half hours and attack targets
immediately as they were identified. On April 7, 2003, a B-1 flying near Baghdad
diverted from its planned mission to drop four JDAMs on a building where
intelligence said Saddam Hussein might be hiding. The plane dropped the bombs 12
minutes after receiving target coordinates, and afterwards completed its original102
mission, destroying 17 additional targets. According to one report, the B-1 was in
such demand that CENTCOM air component commander Lt. Gen. Michael Moseley103
personally managed its scheduling.
Because considerable controversy surrounded the B-1, Congress required, and
the President delivered , a formal certification that the entire program would not cost
more than $20.5 billion ( FY1981 dollars). Some attributed the numerous problems
later associated with the B-1 program at least partly to the cap. The total program
acquisition cost (current DOD estimate) is $30.88 billion (FY1981 dollars) for a unit
100 Peter Pae. “Maligned B-1 Bomber Now Proving Its Worth: Military: Plane’s Successes
In War Have Quieted Critics In Pentagon — For Now.” Los Angeles Times. December 12,
101 Lance M. Bacon, “Back in the Big Game,” Air Force Times, June 16, 2003; David A.
Fulghum and Robert Wall, “Baghdad Confidential,” Aviation Week, April 28, 2003; Tara
Copp, “House Oks Reviving 23 B-1s,” Abilene Reporter-News, July 11, 2003.
102 Hunter Keeter, “B-1 Drops 2,000 Pound JDAMs In ‘Iraqi Leadership’ Strike,” Defense
Daily, April 9, 2003.
103 David A. Fulghum and Robert Wall, “Baghdad Confidential,” Aviation Week, April 28,
cost of $225 million (FY1981 dollars). Appropriations for the B-1A program,
between FY1965 and FY1981 were $4.2 billion.104
Table 5. B-1B Appropriations, by Year
($ Million Then-year)
Y e ar RDT&E P r ocurement Q uantity M ilcon Total
FY1982 292 1,801 1 2,093
FY1983 754 3,868 7 4,622
FY1984 750 5,572 10 6 6,328
FY1985 465 7,071 34 96 7,632
FY1986 265 4,914 48 211 5,390
T otal 5,200 25,049 100 371 30,620
104 The B-1A program was the original design that was cancelled in 1977 by President
Carter. When President Reagan revived the B-1 in 1981, the original design was modified
and designated the B-1B.
Administration’s Request. The Administration requested a total of $181
million to continue B-1B modernization. It requested $92 million for procurement
and $89 million for RDT&E.
Authorization. The House Armed Services Committee (HR1588) added $20.3
million to the Administration’s procurement request to begin the regeneration of 23
of the 33 aircraft retired under the consolidation plan. Total procurement funding
totaled $111.9 million, while RDT&E authorization matched the Administration’s
request at $89 million. The Senate Armed Services committee (S1050) authorized
$92 million for procurement and $89 million for RDT&E, matching the
Appropriation. The House Appropriations Committee (HR2658) added $20.3
million to the Administration’s request to revive 23 B-1s that had been slated for
retirement. The Committee also reduced procurement for the Wind Corrected
Munitions Dispenser system by half, or $15 million, citing technical problems that
must be fixed before procurement of the system continues. Procurement
appropriations totaled $96.9 million, a net increase of $5.3 million. The House
Committee did not alter the RDT&E request. The Senate Appropriations Committee
(S1382) did not add funding to reinstate retired aircraft. Instead, the committee
reduced procurement by $15 million from the Administration’s request, for a total
of $77 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee did not change the
Administrations request for RDT&E.
The B-2 was designed to strike well-protected targets deep in Soviet territory
with nuclear weapons. Because of its stealth technology, the B-2 can avoid detection
by enemy radar and attack targets without escort or U.S. air superiority. During the
1990s, the Air Force adapted the plane for non-nuclear bombing missions, taking
advantage of its long range, large payload, and stealth. Today it can carry 16
independently targeted 2,000 lb. JDAM precision guided bombs, eight massive
The B-2 is slower and has a smaller payload than the other bombers, but its role
is different because of its stealth. It is the only bomber capable of operating in well-
defended airspace and is intended for early strikes in a conflict. The B-2, along with
the F/A-22, is the centerpiece of the Air Force’s “Global Strike Task Force” concept,
which is designed to attack “anti-access” targets in future conflicts, opening the way
for follow-on platforms like the Joint Strike Fighter and the other bombers.105
Figure 4. B-2 Spirit
Source: USAF Photo by MSgt. Rose Reynolds
105 Representative Norm Dicks in Marty Kauchak. “Focus on OEF’s Air Campaign:
Funding, New Doctrine Needed To Continue Air Campaign’s Legacy.” Armed Forces
Journal International. March 2002, p. 20, and John A. Tirpak. “Air Force Leaders Report
On The State Of The Force.” Air Force Magazine. April 2001, p. 28.
Funding in FY1993 enabled the purchase of 20 aircraft. Subsequent funding has
upgraded the B-2’s capabilities as a conventional bomber. In 1996, the Air Force
enlarged the fleet to 21 by adding an existing test aircraft to its force. Sixteen B-2s
are combat coded, and the entire fleet is based at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, with the
New Production. Advocates want the Air Force to order more B-2s to
enlarge the fleet. Initially, the Air Force ordered 165 aircraft, but the end of the Cold
War and enormous cost increases led the Air Force to reduce the number to just 21.
Proponents in Congress and at Northrop Grumman, the lead contractor, contend that
a new version of the B-2 would be far less expensive than the original. Northrop
Grumman has twice provided the Air Force (1995 and 2001) with unsolicited
proposals to reopen the production line. The most recent projected a unit price of
$500 million for 40 new aircraft, compared to more than $2 billion each for the
original planes. Northrop Grumman officials say they can substantially reduce costs
for a modified version of the B-2, dubbed the B-2C, by eliminating the expensive
electronic hardening which protects against nuclear blast and by using “off-the-shelf”
electronics rather than custom designed systems. Maintenance, parts, training, and
support for the B-2C could raise the price to nearly $735 million each for a total bill106
of $29.4 billion for the 40 aircraft.
Senior Air Force and DOD officials have publicly expressed opposition to
restarting the B-2 line.107 Some suggest that DOD’s lack of interest in the B-2 may
be caused by concern that it would conflict with funding other procurement
programs, such as the F/A-22 Raptor.
Other Air Force officials have called for a larger B-2 force and suggest replacing108
B-1Bs and B-52s with an additional 60 to 80 Stealth Bombers. They contend that
B-1Bs and B-52s are low-threat environment aircraft, unable to address the full
spectrum of bombing missions. The B-52’s cruise missile launching capabilities,
they say, could be taken on by Navy ships and submarines.109
Some members of Congress have voiced support for building more B-2s:
Representative Ike Skelton and Senator Jeff Sessions have said that the B-2 is the
106 Air Force and Pentagon estimate, Defense Daily, June 4, 2001.The current 21 B-2s have
cost the Air Force a total of $44.4 billion for development and procurement.
107 Jim Skeen. “Defense Exec Advises Against B-2 Restart.” Los Angeles Daily News.
January 31, 2002.
108 “Battle Over New, Stealthy B-2s Brews Between Roche And Capitol Hill.” Inside the Air
Force. October 26, 2001.” Air Force General Hopes QDR Will ‘Pay Attention’ To
Arguments For More B-2s.” Aerospace Daily. June 28, 2001.
109 Adam J. Hebert. “Former ACC Chief Says USAF Should Move To Larger, All-B-2
Bomber Fleet.” Inside Defense. October 17, 2001.
most advanced bomber aircraft in the force and stressed the need for more.110 In
October 2001, Representative Norman Dicks advocated building 10 or 20 more to
enable more strikes early on in future conflicts.111 More recently, Representatives
Duncan Hunter and Howard McKeon stated that the B-2 is the kind of technology the
United States need to support and advocated production of the cheaper version.112
Supporters argue that building more B-2s would send a clear message to potential
enemies that the United States was serious about maintaining a long range strike
capability.113 However, history may not be on the B-2’s side in regard to restarting
production. The Air Force has re-opened only two assembly lines: the U-2
surveillance aircraft and the C-5 heavy air lifter.
Forward Deployment. The B-2’s radar-absorbing skin must be serviced
under controlled environmental conditions in special hangars. The Air Force does
not have any permanent hangars for the B-2 overseas. New deployable shelters,
however, enable the Air Force to station B-2s much closer to conflicts, reducing
flight times and increasing the number of sorties each plane can fly. Previously, all
B-2 combat missions began and ended at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri,
requiring extremely long sorties to reach far-away conflicts. During the conflict in
Afghanistan, for example, B-2s had to fly sorties in excess of 40 hours to reach their
targets and return home.
With the new deployable shelters, the Air Force can set up a temporary B-2 base
in about one month. However, it appears that the Air Force intends to use the
shelters to set up semi-permanent bases at Fairford Royal Air Force Base in England114
and on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. Some have speculated that the
Air Force may also station B-2s on Guam in the Pacific. B-2s conducting missions
against Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom were the first to use the shelters for
combat missions, flying from Diego Garcia. The hangars cost $2.5 million each and115
the Air Force currently has five, each capable of housing one B-2 at a time.
Radar Upgrade. An upgrade to the Raytheon APQ-181 radar is intended to
improve the B-2’s bombing accuracy and prevent possible interference when the
spectrum used by the plane’s current radar becomes available to commercial users.
110 Andy Pasztor and Anne Marie Squeo. “Northrop’s B-2 Stealth Bomber Re-Emerges As
Focus Of Pentagon’s Battles Over Budget.” Wall Street Journal. October 24, 2001.
111 Jonathan M. Block. “Battle Over New, Stealthy B-2s Brews Between Roche And Capitol
Hill.” Inside the Air Force. October 26, 2001
112 Jim Skeen, “Politician Pushes B2s,” Los Angeles Daily News, June 2, 2003.
113 Nick Johnson. “Additional B-2 Bomber Acquisition Unlikely To Fly, Analysts Say.”
Aerospace Daily. June 15, 2001.
114 Michael Sirak. “USA Establishing Forward Deployment Capability For B-2”, Jane’s
Defence Weekly. September 19, 2001.
115 Bill Kaczor, “Portable Shelters Bolster B-2’s Mobility,” Air Force Times, February 24,
Unless resolved, conflict with commercial users could begin in 2007, according to
a recent Defense Information Systems Agency’s Spectrum Center study.116
After considering several options to resolve frequency spectrum conflicts, the
Air Force chose to add new components to the existing radar rather than simply
modify the existing radar or develop an entirely new system. This hybrid option
incorporates Raytheon’s Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) antenna to the
front end of the existing radar.117 According to Air Force officials, it will provide the
“greatest bang for the buck,”118 increasing performance by 40% in addition to
resolving the spectrum conflict, an official at Northrop Grumman said.119 The Air
Force plans to complete installation of the hybrid on all 21 B-2s within eight years.
Six aircraft would be upgraded initially to ensure at least part of the fleet will be
ready before the 2007 deadline. The upgrade is projected to cost roughly $1
Link 16 and Beyond the Line of Sight (BLOS) Communications
Programs. The Air Force is planning to upgrade the B-2 with the Link 16 jam
resistant data link to improve communications and enable B-2 crews to change
targets in-flight more effectively. Further, the Air Force intends to add satellite
receivers to the B-2 to enable the plane to communicate when out of range of its
current systems. The Link 16 upgrade should be completed in FY2006. DOD
requested $59 million for the program for FY2004. Congress has supported
improving the B-2’s retargeting capabilities in general, and implementing Link 16
specifically. In June 2001, Senator James Inhofe pushed for the Link 16 upgrade after121
DOD did not request funding. The House authorized $104.1 million for continuing
upgrades, adding $32 million to the Administration’s request through an amendment122
by Representative Howard McKeon. For FY2004, the House Armed Services
Committee added $30 million to the Administration’s request to accelerate the
Alternate High Frequency Material. Alternate High Frequency Material is
hoped to enhance the stealth of the B-2, while reducing maintenance. This new
material will be applied to each aircraft as it undergoes annual depot maintenance in
the next six years. The first aircraft with this new coating should be ready in 2003.
116 Frank Wolfe and John Robinson. “Air Force Negotiating With Industry On Possible
Contract To Modify B-2 Radar.” Defense Daily. June 5, 2002, vol. 214, Issue 47.
117 Sharon Weinberger. “Air Force to Spend $1 Billion on B-2 Upgrade.” Aerospace Daily.
August 12, 2002.
118 Laura M. Colarusso and Amy Butler, “Air Force Seeks Acquisition Authority for B-2
Upgrade Effort,” Inside the Air Force, October 4, 2002.
119 Michael Sirak, “USAF In B-2A Radar Upgrade Dilemma,” Jane’s Defense Weekly,
August 14, 2002.
121 Lee Ewing and Marc Selinger. “Representative McKeon calls for restarting B-2 line,
buying 40 more.” Aerospace Daily. July 2, 2001.
The Air Force expects that three aircraft will be modified each year (during their
scheduled maintenance), with a completion for all by FY09.
Weapons Upgrades. Several modifications are being pursued or considered
to increase the B-2’s payload capabilities. The Smart Bomb Release Assembly
(SBRA) will enable the B-2 to carry 80 500 lb. JDAMs instead of the 16 2,000 lb
JDAMs currently employed. The SBRA upgrade began in May 2003 and should be
completed in mid-2004. Estimated costs are $31.7 million.123
Plans have also been drawn to equip the B-2 with the Small Diameter Bomb
(SDB). Although the precision 250-pound SDB is still in development, the Air Force
hopes to equip all B-2s with the weapon by FY04. The Air Force estimates that the124
B-2 could carry between 320 to 360 independently targeted SDBs. In addition, two
unused bays on the B-2 (called the LIB-28 bays) are being evaluated to carry either
additional weapons or jamming devices. Additional weapons could improve weapons
flexibility, while jamming equipment may increase the B-2’s survivability or enable
Mission Capable Rate. The mission capable rate for the B-2 fleet is low
compared to many other aircraft in the Air Force inventory. The B-2’s MCR was
42.2% in 1999 and only 37% in 2000. As noted by DOD’s Office of Operational
Testing and Evaluation, these rates are far below the service requirement of 60%.
The B-2’s MCR dropped even lower in 2001, to 31%, which is about half the MCR125126
of the B-1B. More recently, in June of 2002, the B-2’s MCR rose to 42%. The
Air Force reported a B-2 MCR of 85% during Operation Iraqi Freedom, however,127
MCRs are typically much higher during wartime.
The B-2’s low MCR may be tied to maintaining the aircraft’s stealthy features.
Due to treatment needed to keep the aircraft stealthy, the maintenance time spent
between B-2 flights is longer than that of other aircraft. Air Force officials contend
the MCR would be as high as 80% without the low-observability requirements.128
Maintenance. The radar-absorbing materials (RAM) used to coat the wings
and fuselage have to be applied after each mission. The time needed to “cure” these
123 “Northrop Grumman to Produce Smart Rack for B-2,” Defense Week, May 12, 2003.
124 Testimony of Secretary of the Air Force James Roche before the House Armed Services
Committee. “U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) Holds Hearing on FY2004
Defense Authorization: Day 2 ,” FDCH Political Transcripts, February 27, 2003.
125 Director for Operational Testing and Evaluation. 2002 Report to Congress.
126 Elaine Grossman. “Northrop Pitches Concept To Ready 16 B-2s For Stunning Attack On
Iraq.” Inside the Pentagon. July 25, 2002.
127 Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, “Operation Iraqi Freedom — By the Numbers,”
Assessment and Analysis Division, April 30, 2003, p. 10.
128 Grossman, op. cit.
materials keeps B-2s in depot and off the flight line. A March 2001 report from
DOD’s Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation indicated that each hour of
flight typically requires 52 to 70 hours of maintenance, of which 20.8 hours are for
low-observability coating and treatment.129 Some hope that this time will be
significantly reduced with a spray-on RAM, the Alternative High Frequency Material
(AHFM) that Northrop Grumman finished testing in October 2000. Not all aircraft
surfaces can be treated with this spray, but it is expected that the B-2’s maintenance
time will decrease sharply, from 20.8 to 9.2 hour per flying hour. The upgrade will
improve the MCR by 8%, according to the B-2 program office deputy director at
Spare Parts. Another issue that presents risks of lowering B-2 readiness is an
expected engine parts shortage that could begin as early as 2005. The B-2 uses
analog engine controllers, which are projected to be scarce in four years at the rate
they are currently being replaced. Advances in digital technology will likely make
it harder to find suppliers for analog engine hardware. DOD suggests replacing the
B-2’s analog engine controller with a digital model. In addition to alleviating a spare
parts shortage, switching to a digital engine controller may also provide better131
Cracks. Cracks appeared in the aft deck of several B-2s in 1990 but were fixed,
at a cost of $200 million, after a change in the design of the aircraft. A second series
of cracks, located on titanium plates behind the jet engine’s exhaust, appeared in
2000 on 16 of the 21 B-2s.132 The cause of these cracks is being reviewed. Both the
Air Force Combat Command and Northrop Grumman are working on a fix, and at
this stage it is difficult to predict how much these cracks will cost to repair. In its
FY2004 appropriations bill, the House Armed Services Committee added $27 million
to DOD’s budget request for repairing the cracks.133 According to Northrop
Grumman, the money in the appropriations bill would go toward a permanent
solution to the problem.134
The cracks range from one inch to as long as nine inches, but according to Air
Force officials, they do not represent a threat to stealth capabilities, mission
129 James Dao. “Stealth Bomber, Once Scorned, Gains Fresh Backing.” New York Times.
June 26, 2001, and Tony Carpaccio. “Northrop’s B-2 Needs Excessive’ Maintenance To
Keep Flying.” Bloomberg.com. March 4, 2001.
130 The B-2 system program office is currently developing a robotics system to apply the new
radar absorbing material faster and cheaper than by human labor. The first application on
a combat coded aircraft will be made this Fall at Palmdale AFB, California.
131 Marc Selinger. “Engine Parts Shortages Could Begin to Ground B-2s in 2005, Report
Says.” Aerospace Daily. July 24, 2001.
132 James Dao. “16 Of 21 B-2’s Have Cracks Near Exhaust, Officials Say.” New York Times.
March 20, 2002.
133 House Armed Services Committee, “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2004,”
H.Rept. 108-106 (H.R. 1588), p. 95-96.
134 Hampton Stephens, “Feinstein Pushes for Funds to Fix Cracks in B-2’s Stealthy Skin,”
Inside the Air Force, July 11, 2003.
readiness, or flight safety. Still, the Air Force is keeping a close watch on these
cracks: aircraft with cracks are examined at the end of every flight day, and those
aircraft without cracks every 200 flight hours. The Air Force is concerned that the
cracks may expand to the point of affecting the B-2’s stealth if not fixed. It appears
that fuselage cracking may not be unique to the B-2. Other aircraft have experienced
similar cracks, including the F-22, the F-117, and the C-130.135
Operation Allied Force (Kosovo). The B-2 made its operational debut in
Kosovo. Beginning March 24, 1999, six B-2s flew combat sorties during the NATO-
led air strikes. All B-2 sorties were flown 31-hours round trip, non-stop from
Whiteman AFB, Missouri, to Yugoslavia. The 50 B-2 strike sorties accounted for
approximately 1% of total sorties flown during the Operation, while releasing 11%
of total U.S. Air Force precision weapons, which destroyed 90% of the targets they136
attacked. The bomber employed GPS guided munitions including 651 2,000 lb.
JDAMs and GBU-37. The B-2s reportedly flew without support aircraft for some
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). Six B-2s took part in the
conflict, flying from Missouri for missions over Afghanistan beginning October 5,
2001. They were the first bombers deployed in the conflict. B-1Bs and B-52s were
employed once enemy air defenses were destroyed and low observability was less
important. As in Operation Allied Force, the B-2s were able to deliver 16 JDAMs per
mission and demonstrated great accuracy.137 Crew fatigue was an important
consideration for such long missions. After attacking targets in Afghanistan, B-2s
stopped at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. With the engines still running, they
changed crews, refueled, and flew back to Missouri. The whole trip took six aerial
Operation Iraqi Freedom. Four B-2s stationed on Diego Garcia flew 49
sorties during OIF. It was the first time that B-2s have been stationed overseas, using
the new deployable shelters. The Air Force has not released detailed information
about the activities of the B-2 during the conflict, but did praise the aircraft’s ability
to carry the 4,700 lb. “bunker buster” guided bomb.
Unlike the B-1, the B-2 program was not limited by a price cap. Costs for the
stealth bomber grew even as planned production shrank. In 1978, planners called for
165 B-2s at a total cost of $36 billion ($218 million each, FY1980 dollars). In early
136 Vernon Loeb. “From U.S., Bat-Winged B-2 Strikes At Taliban Bomber Aloft for Days
In Long-Distance Run.” Washington Post. October 20, 2001.
137 Martin Fletcher. “All in a day’s work for long distance stealth warriors.” London Times.
October 12, 2001.
($440 million each). By 1991, production was cut to 75 at a total cost of $64.8
billion ($863 million each), and in 1993, the final purchase of 20 B-2s was totaled
$44.5 billion ($2.2 billion per plane).
Some argue that this aircraft is not only expensive to purchase, but also to
maintain, requiring a workforce of 1,000 mechanics for its 16 combat ready aircraft.
Others argue that the B-2 actually costs less than conventional aircraft because,
thanks to its stealthy features, it can deliver an enormous payload without escort or
air superiority. If one compares the cost of a conventional, multi-plane strike package
to a B-2 strike package, the “value of stealth” becomes apparent, advocates argue.138
However, opponents point out that the B-2 is usually escorted by stand-off jamming
The B-2’s program Acquisition Cost (current Air Force estimate) was $44.5
billion for 21 B-2s (then-year $), with a unit cost of $2.12 billion (then-year $).139
Table 6. B-2 Appropriations, by Year
($ Millions, Then-year)
FY1989 2,176 3,037 3 80 5,293
FY1990 1,881 2,087 2 111 4,079
FY1991 1,751 2,349 3 104 4,204
FY1992 1,563 2,800 2 4,363
FY1993 1,261 2,687 3,948
FY1994 790 572 1,362
FY1996 790 624 1,414
138 For a graphical depiction of what B-2 advocates call the value of stealth, see CRS Report
RL30639, Electronic Warfare: EA-6B Modernization and Related Issues for Congress.
139 Richard Aboulafia. “World Military & Civil Aircraft Briefing.” Teal Group Briefing
Book Series. January 2001.
a. Congress also appropriated $125 million for the “Bomber Industrial Base,” to keep open the
possibility of acquiring additional B-2s for one year.
b. Six flight-test aircraft funded through R&D appropriations have been retrofitted, using
appropriated R&D funds, to join the operational B-2 fleet — yielding a total of 21 operational
Administration’s Request. The Administration requested $76 million for
procurement and $152 million for research and development.
Authorization. The House Armed Services Committee (HR1588)
recommended $128 million for procurement and $186 million for research and
development. The Committee moved $25 million from R&D to procurement per an
Air Force request, and added $27 million to repair cracks in the aft deck. The
committee added $4 million to R&D for research into the aft-deck cracks, and $30
million to accelerate research into the B-2 satellite communications link. The Senate
Armed Services committee (S1050) also moved the $25 million from R&D to
procurement for a total of $101 million. Research and Development was reduced to
$127 million. The Senate committee made no other changes to the Administration’s
Appropriation. The House Appropriations Committee (HR2658) added $27.1
million to the procurement request to repair aft-deck cracks and moved $25 million
from RDT&E to procurement. Overall, procurement funding for the B-2 was
increased by $51.8 million over the request. In terms of RDT&E, the Committee
added $30 million for the B-2’s satellite communications link and $4 million for
research related to the cracks. RDT&E appropriations totaled $160.9 million, $8.8
million more than requested. The Senate Appropriations Committee (S1383)
reduced the procurement request by $5 million, for a total of $71 million. They did
not change the Administration’s request for RDT&E.