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Hotly Debated B-1b Bombers Head For Base

A controversial, expensive weapon will make its home at Mountain Home Air Force Base starting this week.

A pair of B-1B Lancer bombers are to arrive today, the first of 11 being assigned to the base. They bring with them 570 personnel, pushing the base’s military staff to more than 4,000.

Mountain Home’s 366th Composite Wing was created to quickly deploy a force of fighters, tankers and bombers.

Nearly a generation after Capitol Hill first canceled, then resurrected, the swing-wing bomber, it still can raise a hot argument among military analysts.

Detractors call it a flawed remnant of the Cold War that did not work when it was needed most - in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Four of the planes have crashed.

“The B-1 is a dog,” said Kathryn Schultz with the Center for Defense Information of Washington, D.C. “When you couldn’t use a given weapon during the Gulf War, when we had the great showcase of U.S. weapons and it didn’t make the showcase, that’s not a great endorsement.”

Supporters say the B-1B has done its job, and will again.

“It kept the peace, and it won the Cold War,” said Gregg Hilton of the American Security Council. The Washington think tank marshaled congressional support for the bomber when Jimmy Carter canceled it in the 1970s.

“Are we gravely concerned by a nuclear threat like we once were?” Hilton asked. “No, but it’s still a useful and worthwhile investment.”

Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 made restoration of the project part of the platform he used to defeat Carter, and 100 B-1B’s were built at a cost of more than $200 million each.

It has supersonic capabilities, although the Air Force says it will make no supersonic flights over Idaho.

Designed to penetrate the air defenses of the former Soviet Union, the B-1B relies on radar to hug the ground as close as 200 feet.

The B-1B has been converted to conventional bombing missions with a payload of 84 500-pound bombs.

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