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vta twa4MPV-v “,N-” A B-1 bombers at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene Robert Bryce another B-1 crashed near Valentine, Texas, killing all four on board. The three accidents occurred during routine, low-altitude flights. According to Air Force statistics, the B-1 is three times more likely to be involved in serious accidents or crashes than the rest of the airplanes in the fleet. For the B-1, the lifetime rate for “Class A” mishaps accidents involving loss of life or $1 million in damage is 4.02. For the Air Force, the current overall rate is 1.37. The destroyed-aircraft rate for the lifetime of the B-1 is 2.13. The current destroyed-aircraft rate \(measured per overall is 0.79. Recently, the Air Force bragged that the bomber has been deployed in Southwest Asia, where it stands ready to be used against Iraq. But B1 s won’t be used in Iraq unless the U.S. decides to give up its celebrated “smart” weapons. The B-1 was designed to drop nuclear warheads on the Soviet Union, so it is capable of carrying only the unguided 500-pound bombs that have been in the American arsenal for decades. Given the American military’s promise to conduct a “surgical strike” on Saddam’s weapons factories, the B-1 will remain on the tarmac even if diplomacy gives way to a military assault. The B-1 is supposed to replace the B-52, which has been in service since 1952. But the old B-52 with a mishap rate onethird that of the B-1 is more reliable, more versatile, and a helluva lot safer. In September of 1996, when the U.S. last dropped bombs in Saddam’s backyard, the Pentagon relied on sea-launched cruise missiles and cruise missiles launched from a B-52 that flew into the region from an air base in Diego Garcia. The U.S. military has far more war-making capability than any of our adversaries. A 1996 study by the Center for Defense Information found that the U.S. has 3.5 times more military airplanes than Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Syria combined. Yet Texas politicians Hutchison, Stenholm, and others are resolved to keep the B-1 flying. In a statement issued two days after the crash, Stenholm said, “In spite of this incident, the B-1 remains the backbone of our bomber fleet.” And, he added, the funding for the B-1 upgrade “reinforces the Air Force’s commitment to this important air power asset.” It may be time to listen to the people on the ground instead of the politicians. Randy Rushing was a volunteer firefighter who was one of the first on the scene at the Kentucky crash site. Rushing told the Associated Press that he had picked up the B-1’s co-pilot after he found him in a field. According to Rushing, “He mainly said that something went haywire.” Robert Bryce, a frequent contributor to the Observer, is a contributing editor at the Austin Chronicle, where a version of this story first appeared. MARCH 13, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7