The Northrop Grumman B-2 bomber has been declared fit to fight, but forward deployments are not possible because of problems in maintaining the stealth aircraft.

The US Air Force announced in April that the B-2 had achieved its initial operational capability with delivery of the thirteenth aircraft to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.

This comes after the number of B-2s to be acquired was reduced from 132 to 21 operational aircraft, all due to be delivered by 2000.

According to the US General Accounting Office (GAO), the USAF has decided that it is unrealistic to plan on deploying the B-2 to forward operating locations at present, without the shelters needed to preserve and maintain the aircraft's low-observable features.

The GAO says that some low-observable materials are not as durable as expected and require lengthy maintenance, some in an environmentally controlled shelter after each flight.

In addition, B-2s must be kept in shelters because of their sensitivity to moisture, water and severe climatic conditions.

It says that developing and fabricating permanent or temporary shelters for use at forward operating bases could drive up the overall cost of the B-2 programme.

Source: Flight International