Rumsfeld to propose cutting B-1 bomber force by one-third |

Rumsfeld to propose cutting B-1 bomber force by one-third

WASHINGTON (AP) – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will ask Congress for authority to cut the Air Force B-1 bomber fleet by one-third and eliminate those now operated at Air National Guard bases in Georgia and Kansas, senior defense officials said Tuesday.

The decision drew immediate complaints from the Georgia and Kansas congressional delegations, which accused the administration of playing politics.

The decision is part of the Bush administration’s amended fiscal 2002 budget request, which officials said includes a number of cost savings. Cutting about 30 B-1 bombers from the force would produce significant cost savings, the officials said, although exact figures were not immediately available.

The administration plans to submit the amended 2002 budget request to Congress on Wednesday. It calls for defense spending of $329 billion, which is $18.4 billion more than the president had requested earlier this year.

The B-1 bomber decision comes as Rumsfeld seeks to find cost savings while investing more in next-generation weapons. Some have speculated that Rumsfeld will propose building more B-2 stealth bombers, although officials said Tuesday that no decisions have been made.

Two senior defense officials discussed Rumsfeld’s decision Tuesday after word leaked out to members of the Georgia and Kansas congressional delegations. The officials spoke on condition they not be identified.

If Rumsfeld’s plan is approved by Congress, the Air Force would have B-1 bombers based at only two bases – Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. He would move B-1s now assigned to the 116th Bomb Wing at Robins Air Force Base in central Georgia and those assigned to the Kansas Air National Guard’s 184th Bomb Wing at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita.

The consolidation would also affect a smaller number of bombers assigned to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.

”This is absolutely unbelievable,” said Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga. ”This is wrong. It stinks.” He said it could mean the elimination of 800 to 900 jobs in Georgia.

Miller said he had discussed the change with the White House and had sent a letter to Rumsfeld.

”I’ve told them how unacceptable this is,” Miller said.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, accused the Air Force of playing politics.

”South Dakota is the home of the majority leader of the Senate. Texas is the home of the president. I have a little feeling about this,” Roberts said.

Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., said he learned about the proposal Tuesday in a telephone call from Air Force Secretary John Roche, who was vacationing in France.

”I couldn’t believe it on policy grounds, couldn’t believe the way it was handled, so secretly,” he said. ”There was no consultation with the Congress, no prior briefing, no transition plan, no economic plans for the communities. It looked like the Air Force was pressured into this decision by higher-ups.”

The B-1, nicknamed the ”Lancer,” originally was built as a long-range bomber but was converted during the 1990s to a strictly non-nuclear role. It was used, along with the B-2s and B-52s, in the air campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999.

Rumsfeld’s decision is in line with the recommendation of a study done for him by a Rand Corp. research team led by David Gomperts. The study listed several major weapons as not sufficiently compatible with transforming the U.S. military for 21st century missions, and the B-1 bomber was on that list.

The first version of the B-1 – called the B-1A – was canceled in 1977 after four prototype bombers were built. Flight tests of the B-1As continued through 1981, when President Reagan took office and ordered production of an improved variant, the B-1B, which is the version flying today.

The first production model of the B-1B flew in October 1984. The Air Force bought 100 of the planes, and now there are a little over 90 remaining. The planes saw their first combat action in 1998 against Iraq.

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