THE US AIR FORCE'S Rockwell B-1B bomber fleet has passed a six-month, Congressionally mandated, readiness test intended to establish the aircraft's operational availability.

Gen. Mike Loh, commander of USAF Air Combat Command, says that the test showed that the aircraft can fulfil its potential if, Congress provides sufficient funds for spares and maintenance.

In the test, involving 24 B-1Bs of the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, a mission-capable rate of 84% was achieved. Congress had set a minimum standard of 75%, which the Boeing B-52 fleet already meets and which the Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bomber force will be required to meet. Before the test, B-1B readiness was around 55%.

"The test was an unqualified success," Loh says. "The B-1B weapon system should no longer be penalised for its past, actual or perceived problems," he maintains. The test, conducted from June to November 1994, included two weeks of accelerated wartime operations, with the aircraft deployed to New Mexico. "We proved the B-1B can pack up and go anywhere in the world," Loh says.

The Air Force can sustain a 75% mission-capable rate with the 95-aircraft B-1B fleet, he says, if $12 million is spent on improving avionics reliability and if Congress provides funds to purchase additional spares and improve maintenance efficiency. The B-1B is being converted to the conventional bombing role, with fleet modification scheduled to be completed in 2004, at a projected cost of $2.75 billion.

Source: Flight International