The US Air Force should not purchase additional Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bombers, according to an independent panel appointed by Congress to consider the issue.

The Long Range Air Power Review Panel was charged with evaluating the adequacy of the US bomber force and determining whether B-2 bomber production should rise above the 21 aircraft already approved for procurement.

Specifically, the panel was set up to recommend whether $331 million earmarked in the fiscal year 1998 spending plans should be spent to re-open B-2 production or for aircraft enhancements.

It concludes that the funding would be best used for B-2 upgrades to improve deployability, survivability and maintainability. The panel also recommends that the US Air Force "better exploit the potential" of the current Rockwell B-1, B-2 and Boeing B-52 bomber force "through more operational attention and additional investment in support and upgrades". The panel says that the US Department of Defense should develop a plan to sustain the bomber force "for the longer term". The report is classified, and no further details are available.

The USAF, which says it cannot afford more than 21 B-2s, hopes that the matter has been put to rest. It is to spend the $331 million on improving low-observability materials maintenance and developing better ways for the B-2 to counter X-band air defence radars.

Source: Flight International