USAF considers mounting hypersonic missiles on B-1B ‘Lancer’

To reduce the work required to modify the USAF's B-52s, another "Cold War" bomber, the B-1B "Lancer," is also being modified to test hypersonic missiles.
Christopher McFadden
The B-1B is a flying legend.

USAF/Wikimedia Commons 

To lighten the load for the United States Air Force's (USAF) fleet of B-52 bombers, another venerable "Cold War" American bomber, the B-1 "Lancer," is also being considered potentially to carry hypersonic missiles. If given the go-ahead, B-1B's could become the primary workhorse for future hypersonic missile testing. However, several significant roadblocks must be overcome first to make this a reality.

B-1B is relevant again

One option currently being considered is Boeing's Load Adaptable Modular (LAM) pylon. If mounted to hard points on the B-1B, these pylons could mount large, heavy hypersonic missile prototypes. This sounds straightforward enough, but, as many insiders point out, these hard points were decommissioned many of them during the New START Treaty. Originally these were designed to carry nuclear-capable payloads, but the treaty required the USAF to stop this practice.

“Everything’s been gutted. There’s no more wiring going out there. We actually stuffed stuff in there so you couldn’t put a pylon in … and we’ve had to work around” says Joe Stupic, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) senior material leader for the B-1. “There’s still this structure where we can put a pylon … but there’s no more wire, no more power, no more cruise missile control box. It’s all ripped out," he added.

However, work is in progress to reverse this. For example, the USAF has already conducted ground and vibration testing using the towers and dropped Joint Direct Attack Munitions from them. For example, the aircraft has been fitted with a GBU-72 Advanced 5K penetrator bomb to simulate the weight and size of a hypersonic weapon, like the AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon.

Aviation Week has noted that the plan is to conduct engineering and development tests to determine whether hypersonic testing is viable. The focus will be on the pylon that Boeing developed using internal funding. Ultimately, it will be up to the Air Force to decide whether the B-1 will have operational use for carrying hypersonic weapons. Currently, the program is solely dedicated to the test mission, as confirmed by Brigadier-general William Rogers, AFLCMC’s program executive for bombers.

There are also some other options being considered by the USAF too. In 2020, for example, The USAF demonstrated an external captive-carry of a Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile on a forward hardpoint that is usually used for a targeting pod. They have also tested carrying the munitions internally within the B-1B.

No set date

However, the USAF has not decided on a specific date to retire the B-1 and B-2 fleets as they introduce the Northrop Grumman B-21 "Raider." Instead of following the 2018 Bomber Vector plan, they are now concentrating on a "bomber capability road map." This entails AFLCMC collaborating with Air Force Global Strike Command and the Air Staff to allocate resources as they become available to ensure the B-1s and B-2s are still kept "relevant."

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