The US Air Force say that continuous bomber support operations over the last 20 years have taken a toll on the B-1 airframe structure due to “overuse in a manner not commensurate with its planned design”.
According to the US Air Force, currently, a portion of the B-1Bs are in a state that will require tens of millions of dollars per aircraft to get back to a status quo fleet in the short term until the B-21 Raider comes online.
As such, US Air Force officials proposed the retirement of 17 structurally deficient B-1Bs in 2021 so that maintenance dollars and manpower can be focused on the healthiest aircraft in the fleet.
The US Air Force has around 60 B-1Bs in service. The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is to begin replacing the B-1B after 2025. The B-1s are planned to be fully retired by 2036.
“In addition, in coordination with our contractors, the Program Office, Combatant Command planners and our most advanced weapons’ school Airmen, the Air Force has changed various flight employment tactics of the remaining B-1Bs to preserve the longevity of the aircraft. These changes will significantly extend the life of the B-1B and reduce costs associated with potential structural repairs during the transition to the B-21.
The Air Force is not planning to close any B-1B squadrons, reduce major manpower pools or close any bomber bases. The reduction of B-1s from Ellsworth and Dyess Air Force Bases will be spread across both units.”
In addition, the US Air Force say in a news release that will maintain adequate B-1B capability through a heavy B-52 test period and initial B-21 buildup and that this is the start of the B-1B retirement which has been planned for some time, but sped up on the most deficient aircraft in the fleet.