If President Donald Trump called for action against North Korea right now, not even half of all Air Force bombers would be locked and loaded for combat.
Air Force figures indicate that because bomb squadrons are operating on reduced budgets and have deployed for 15 years, less than half of conventional and nuclear B-52s are ready to fly at any time, Air Force Times reports.
In total, just 33 B-52s can fly at a moment’s notice, and a similar problem applies to conventional B-1s, of which only 25 out of 62 are available.
For B-2s, only seven or eight are available out of 20, and out of the ones available, only 51 percent are ready for mission deployment.
“On a nominal basis you don’t have more than single digits of B-2s available to do anything,” retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula told Air Force Times.
For Deptula, the realization of the air power readiness crisis should call attention to the need for more resources.
“The U.S. Air Force is the smallest and least ready it’s ever been in history – that should get people’s attention,” Deptula added.
Still, three bomber fleets are ready to go. Air Force Col. Robert Lepper, head of the combat aircraft division at Air Force Global Strike Command, told Air Force Times that the issue of reduced numbers is not out of the ordinary.
“All three of our bomber fleets are capable of meeting their missions – they’ve always dealt with reduced bombers,” Lepper said. “Specifically with the B-2 fleet – we make decisions every day how to best utilize the aircraft … and meet the requirements that are there for us in that given day.”
As tensions ratchet up between the U.S. and North Korea, Trump emphasized Friday that the military is “locked and loaded,” though he did not say any action was imminent. However, as The New York Times reports, the Pentagon is not in the process of sending any new ships to the Korean Peninsula, despite increasingly heated rhetoric.
Trump warned Tuesday that if North Korea continued to make threats, “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening … and as I said they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Trump then added Thursday that perhaps his “fire and fury” comments weren’t aggressive enough.
“If anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said at his New Jersey golf club.
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