Congressional investigators say the B-1B bomber, a plane the Air Force contends is "ready to go to war now," is several years and more than $1 billion from being cured of serious problems.

Officials of the General Accounting Office told a House panel Wednesday that the $30 billion supersonic aircraft program is plagued by engine, radar and anti-icing problems.The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, estimates that it will cost more than $1 billion to solve the problems, including about $830 million for the radar system.

"These three problems are not close to being solved," Nancy Kingsbury of the GAO testified to the House Government Operations Committee. She said the agency does not expect work to be completed until after 1994 and perhaps as late as 2000.

The bomber has been fraught with problems since it came into service in 1986. Three of the 100 planes in the fleet have crashed, including one that went down when a bird flew into an engine.

Lawmakers have focused on the B-1 since the Air Force decided to rely on its 30-year-old B-52 bombers in the Persian Gulf war rather than the new B-1Bs.

The Air Force has responded that the B-1B is geared to carry nuclear weapons but that more testing is required on its conventional capability.

"With prudent and proper investment, the B-1, like the B-52, will possess a robust nuclear and conventional capability in support of future actions," Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard E. Hawley told the committee.

But several lawmakers questioned the assessment.