Over the skies of South Korea Wednesday, dramatic photos showed an Air Force supersonic bomber with U.S. and allied fighter jets in formation.
But there were supposed to be two Air Force bombers flying together.
In another sign of the maintenance challenges facing the U.S. military after years of budget cuts, the Air Force B-1B bomber that flew to South Korea from Guam on Wednesday was forced to leave behind its wingman.
The second bomber reported a maintenance issue while taxiing to the runway for takeoff, according to an Air Force officer who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“We only had a 30-minute launch window to meet the tanker,” while flying from Guam to South Korea the officer said.
The grounded American bomber was not the only glitch this week for the U.S. Air Force. A state-of-the-art F-22 stealth fighter jet was towed from the runway after landing in South Korea this week, although the Air Force later found no problems with the aircraft, according to Stars and Stripes.
The fact only half the number of B-1B bombers were able to carry out its training mission Wednesday falls roughly in line with the mission capability rates of the Air Force’s B-1 fleet. Today, only about half the B-1s in the inventory can fly. The Air Force is nearly 2,000 pilots and about 4,000 aircraft mechanics short. Spare parts are hard to come by for the bomber that first entered service in the 1980s.