One of the U.S. Air Force’s B-1B bombers that took part in a historic deployment to Norway earlier this year suffered Serious engine damage in a mishap that has not been previously reported.
The incident remains under investigation, but has already led to a squadron commander getting removed from their post.
“During a recent deployment to Norway, a B-1B did have engine damage but that incident is still under investigation and we are unable to provide further information at this time,” Technical Sergeant David Scott-Gaughan, a spokesperson for the 7th Bomb Wing, said. “A commander at Dyess AFB was relieved of command due to loss of confidence in her ability to lead the squadron.”
The Supersonic aircraft arrived at the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s Ørland Main Air Station in February, before leaving the following month, with the deployment widely seen as a show of force aimed at Russia particularly over the Arctic region.
The deployment of a B-1B bomber above the Arctic Circle, in particular, was seen to be directed at Russia, although the aircraft could not remain in the extreme climates there in the medium or long term — unlike Russia’s own Su-34 and MiG-31K strike aircraft which are deployed permanently to the region.
The U.S. Air Force has continued to face difficulties operating the B-1B, which is its only class of supersonic bomber and its only post-Vietnam War era bomber fielded in multiple large squadrons.
The aircraft’s very high maintenance requirements and operational costs left 90% of the fleet out of service in 2019, and while the B-1B fleet was initially scheduled for complete retirement in the mid-2030s, when it would be replaced by larger numbers of B-21 Raider stealth bombers, ongoing reliability issues and rising operational costs may force the Air Force to retire the aircraft early.
At least some Lancers are expected to leave service before 2025, which could force the Air Force to temporarily make do with a much smaller bomber fleet. The aircraft currently comprises four of the eleven serving bomber squadrons alongside five Vietnam War era B-52H squadrons and two small B-2 Spirit squadrons.
Russia is currently expanding its fleets of Tu-22M and Tu-160M supersonic bombers, with the former being restored from storage and the latter being produced from newly reopened production lines. The bulk of Russia’s bomber fleet was produced in late 1980s or in the 1990s, meaning the B-1B airframes are on average much older than their competitors.