Despite reported computer glitches, B-2s may fly over Kosovo

SEATTLE—Defense Secretary William Cohen yesterday confirmed that the Air Force's B-2 bomber, lambasted last year by the General Accounting Office for problems in its command and control systems, will be among the aircraft that could be called upon to carry out bombing missions over Kosovo.

According to Cohen, who is traveling here to visit with Microsoft Corp. chief executive officer Bill Gates and address Microsoft employees, more than 50 additional aircraft will be sent to Europe over the weekend to prepare for possible military action early next week.

Describing what could be a "significant operation," Cohen said the B-2s, known as Stealth bombers, would be among the force "package" available to NATO commanders should Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic fail to withdraw Serb forces from Kosovo by Saturday, which is the deadline set by the State Department.

The decision to use the B-2 would be left to the commanders. If used, it would mark the first time the B-2 would fly a combat mission.

However, in July 1998 GAO reported that problems in the command and control systems used aboard the costly bomber contributed to a list of deficiencies that limit the aircraft's ability to carry out bombing missions [FCW, July 6, 1998].

GAO concluded that problems with the bomber's automated ground-mission planning system, which is required to rapidly plan and launch strikes, as well as problems with the aircraft's defensive system, which is designed to provide pilots with visual information on enemy threats, "limit the aircraft's ability to fully meet" Air Force objectives.

The Defense Department's annual report on the test and evaluation of various command and control systems, released this month, also reached similar conclusions.

A spokesman for Cohen, however, discounted the problems with the Stealth bomber's computer systems. "If there were concerns, we would not send them," he said.

The boomerang-like bomber was first developed in 1981 by Northrop Grumman's B-2 Division to deliver conventional or nuclear bombs across great distances in a short period of time. In 1986 each plane was estimated to cost $438 million. Recent estimates put the total development and procurement costs for each bomber at more than $2.1 billion, according to GAO.

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