Operation Desert Storm:

Limits on the Role and Performance of B-52 Bombers in Conventional Conflicts

NSIAD-93-138: Published: May 12, 1993. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the role and performance of B-52 bombers in Operation Desert Storm and implications for their future conventional use.

GAO found that: (1) it could not assess the bombers' contribution to Operation Desert Storm, since they were a small part of the total air force, they flew few missions, their missions were not geared to their strengths, and battle damage assessments were inadequate; (2) the B-52 force was not adequately prepared to meet all wartime demands because factors considered in its nuclear orientation were not material to conventional operations; (3) the B-52 force focused on low-altitude training prior to the war, but during the war, the bombers usually flew at high altitudes and with fighter support, for which their crews had inadequate training; (4) the bombers had equipment limitations for high-altitude missions; (5) the Strategic Air Command (SAC) provided much of the B-52 logistical support required, and most of the planes were based far from the war theater; (6) with the dissolution of SAC, future theater commanders will need to devote large logistical efforts to B-52 bombers; and (7) appropriate munitions were not always available for certain types of missions.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD noted that some of the B-52 fleet would be retired but that some modifications were required to the remaining fleet for those aircraft to continue to be viable.

    Matter: Congress should consider setting aside any major proposals to modify bombers for conventional operations until the Department of Defense (DOD) determines how best to employ strategic bombers in conventional conflicts.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD noted that some of the B-52 fleet would be retired, but that some modifications were required to the remaining fleet for those aircraft to continue to be viable. No action has been taken on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To assist DOD in making such a determination, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to reconcile the different priorities reflected in the B-52's Desert Storm experience and the Air Force bomber roadmap.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD noted that some of the B-52 fleet would be retired, but that some modifications were required to the remaining fleet for those aircraft to continue to be viable. No action has been taken on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To assist DOD in making such a determination, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ensure that theater commanders are a major player in defining the bomber's role and the subsequent training and equipment priorities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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