Air Force Bombers:

Options to Retire or Restructure the Force Would Reduce Planned Spending

NSIAD-96-192: Published: Sep 30, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the: (1) basis for the Department of Defense's (DOD) bomber force requirements; (2) Air Force's progress in implementing the new conventional concept of operations for using bombers; and (3) costs to keep bombers in the force and enhance their conventional capabilities.

GAO found that: (1) DOD based its decision to retain and upgrade 187 bombers on three studies that had significant limitations in their methodology, used questionable assumptions, and failed to examine less costly alternatives; (2) service commanders in chief, who expected to use fewer aircraft than recommended by the three studies, did not express concern that a smaller number of bombers would adversely affect their abilities in future conflicts; (3) the Air Force's bomber modernization program has experienced testing delays, has yet to demonstrate that bombers meet some of the most important mission requirements, and has not fully detailed bomber upgrades; (4) the total cost to modernize DOD's heavy bomber force is likely to exceed $7 billion by 2008; and (5) options that would help DOD to reduce bomber costs while maintaining extensive conventional ground-attack capability include retiring the B-1B force, retiring the 27 B-1B in the reconstitution reserve, placing additional B-1B in the Air National Guard, and consolidating basing for active B-1B.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not agree there is a shortfall in readiness spares packages.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require the Secretary of the Air Force to provide an assessment of the risk resulting from shortfalls in meeting requirements for mobility readiness spares packages and providing personnel needed to support conventional operations overseas, including the impact of the shortfalls on the Air Force's ability to meet commander-in-chief requirements for bombers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Air Force programmed an increase of more than 70 Air National Guard manpower positions and $6 million in associated funding beginning in fiscal year 1999 to eliminate shortages in munitions handlers. It also programmed an increase of 135 active military positions and associated funding of $23 million beginning in fiscal year 2000.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require the Secretary of the Air Force to prepare plans and time frames to eliminate shortfalls or mitigate the risks associated with them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Options to reduce the number of B-1B aircraft were included in the Deep Attack Weapons Mix Study (DAWMS) completed in November 1997. However, the study concluded that retiring additional B-1s is not warranted. The QDR, which relied heavily on DAWMS, also concluded that DOD should keep all remaining B-1s (93 of them).

    Recommendation: Given the challenges of long-term recapitalization of the force, the Secretary of Defense should consider options to retire or reduce the B-1B force as part of the ongoing Deep Attack Weapons Mix Study.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The move of B-1Bs to Mountain Home is well under way. DOD does not agree with recommendation that Air Force assess the potential to place more bombers in the reserve component.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should assess the potential to place more bombers in the reserve component and reexamine the decision to relocate six B-1B to Mountain Home Air Force Base.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force


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