It was just a few years ago, in March 2011, when a pair of U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers – during a harsh winter storm – took off from their base in South Dakota to fly across the world to launch the air campaign in Libya, only 16 hours after given the order, reported Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson in this Fox News exclusive.
Today, many in the Air Force are questioning whether a similar mission could still be accomplished, after years of budget cuts that have taken an undeniable toll. The U.S. Air Force is now short 4,000 airmen to maintain its fleet, short 700 pilots to fly them and short vital spare parts necessary to keep their jets in the air. The shortage is so dire that some have even been forced to scrounge for parts in a remote desert scrapheap known as “The Boneyard.”
“It’s not only the personnel that are tired, it’s the aircraft that are tired as well,” Master Sgt. Bruce Pfrommer, who has over two decades of experience in the Air Force working on B-1 bombers, told Fox News.
Fox News visited two U.S. Air Force bases – including South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base located 35 miles from Mount Rushmore, where Pfrommer is stationed – to see the resource problems first-hand, following an investigation into the state of U.S. Marine Corps aviation last month.
Many of the Airmen reported feeing “burnt out” and “exhausted” due to the current pace of operations, and limited resources to support them. During the visit to Ellsworth earlier this week, Fox News was told only about half of the 28th Bomb Wing’s fleet of bombers can fly.
“We have only 20 aircraft assigned on station currently. Out of those 20 only nine are flyable,” Pfrommer said.
“The [B-1] I worked on 20 years ago had 1,000 flight hours on it. Now we’re looking at some of the airplanes out here that are pushing over 10,000 flight hours,” he said.
“In 10 years, we cut our flying program in half,” said Capt. Elizabeth Jarding, a B-1 pilot at Ellsworth who returned home in January following a six-month deployment to the Middle East for the anti-ISIS campaign.
On an overcast day in the middle of May with temperatures hovering in the low 50’s, two B-1 bombers were supposed launch at 9:00 a.m. local time to fly nearly 1,000 miles south to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for a live-fire exercise.
On this day, though, only one of the two B-1s that taxied to the runway was able to take off and make the training mission on time. The other sat near the runway for two hours. It eventually took off but was unable to participate in the live-fire exercise and diverted to a different mission, its crew missing out on valuable training at White Sands.
A spare aircraft also was unable to get airborne.
When operating effectively, the B-1 can be one of the most lethal bombers in the U.S. military’s arsenal. Designed as a low-level deep strike penetrator to drop nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, the B-1 has evolved into a close-air support bomber. Flying for 10-12 hours at a time high above the battlefield, B-1’s can carry 50,000 pounds of weapons, mostly satellite-guided bombs.
“It can put a 2,000 pound weapon on a doorknob from 15 miles away in the dark of night, in the worst weather,” said Col. Gentry Boswell, commander of the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth.
But only half of these supersonic bombers can actually fly right now.
Read the full story at Fox News.