House committee shoots down B-1 bomber retirement plan

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday shot down the Air Force's plan to retire one third of its B-1 bomber force of 93 planes as the panel marked up the fiscal year 2002 defense authorization bill (H.R. 2586).

The House committee action, achieved by a 33-26 vote, deals a blow to Air Force plans to keep 60 B-1 bombers in fighting condition through the retirement of 33 others. Just hours before the committee vote, Gen. Mike Ryan, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters that his service had searched its budget for B-1 readiness money and concluded that retirement of part of the force was the only solution.

"There was no where else to get the money," Ryan said.

Ryan's argument cut no ice with Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who has B-1s stationed in his state. Chambliss argued that the Air Force retirement plan was not well thought out, came as a surprise to Congress and would not save the millions of dollars advertised.

The congressman lost on his first attempt to derail the Air Force plan on a 29-29 tie vote. But later in the markup session, he asked for a reconsideration of the vote and then prevailed in a second vote of 33-26.

The B-1 amendment faces headwinds later this year when the House and Senate must hammer out differences in their rival authorization bills. As passed by the House committee, the Chambliss amendment prohibits the Air Force from "retiring or dismantling any of the 93 B-1B Lancer bombers in service as of June 1, 2001" or transferring them to the Air National Guard.

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