Flight testing of the Northrop Grumman B-2 has been scaled back in a bid to meet a 1 July 1997 deadline to complete tests and avoid increased costs. Testing devoted to armament, offensive and defensive avionics, low-level terrain following and surface-to-air missile avoidance has been reduced.

The revised flight-test plan focuses efforts "-on demonstrating the minimum essential employment capabilities needed to field a fully combat-capable aircraft", says the US General Accounting Office (GAO). The US Air Force agrees with the GAO report.

Northrop Grumman says, that more than 3,900 flight hours have been amassed, by the B-2 fleet with sortie availability "above 90%". Three operational B-2s will be joined by two more in "the next couple of months", and eight are to be operational by the end of January 1997.

A bombing accuracy for B-2s of 1-2m (4-7ft) was achieved in an October test in which 16 precision-guided munitions were dropped from three aircraft. In the test of Northrop Grumman's GPS-Aided Munition (GAM), 13 of the 900kg bombs scored direct hits.

"We expected up to 13m accuracy and ended up with between 4ft and 7ft. It's probably something that was good luck first time around," says Paul Kaminski, US Department of Defense under-secretary for acquisition and technology.

Eight GAMS were dropped, by one aircraft, seven by another and one by a third. The USAF has procured 128 GAMs as interim B-2 weapons until the Joint Direct Attack Munition is available.

Source: Flight International