U.S. Air Force starting to look at the idea and engaging industry partners regarding the possibility to integrate hypersonic missiles and other advanced weapons into B-1B Lancer long-range bomber.
The plans of exploring ways to give the Lancer even more magazine capacity was first reported by The Drive.
During the visit of Air Force Global Strike Command and industry partners to Edwards Air Force Base, California was said that the U.S. Air Force has plans to increase the B-1B weapons capacity to integrate future advanced weapons.
The two potential programs – external carriage and long bay options – would allow the B-1B to carry weapons externally, significantly increasing its magazine capacity for munitions, as well as adding larger, heavier munitions, including the deadly hypersonic missiles that designed to destroy adversaries’ weapons before they are launched.
Lt. Col. Dominic Ross, B-1B program element monitor, AFGSC said the expanded capabilities will be conventional only, keeping the aircraft compliant with New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START.
Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, chief of staff for Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration, Headquarters Air Force, along with Gen. Tim Ray, AFGSC commander, and other government and industry partners, were briefed on the potential expanded capabilities and how they would be able to adapt to future requirements.
“It increases the magazine capacity of the B-1B. Currently we can carry 24 weapons internally, now it can be increased to potentially 40 based on what type of pylon we would create,” Ross said. “This gets the B-1 into the larger weapons, the 5,000 pounders. It gets it into the hypersonics game as well.”
Ross said that the B-1B was designed with eight hard points to carry weapons, as well as a moveable bulkhead. The demonstration showed a notional hypersonic missile mock-up attached to a Conventional Rotary Launcher; the same CRL used on the B-52H.
For the demonstration, the bomber was also outfitted with an inert Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile attached to a pylon, which was attached to one of the original hard points on the plane. The demonstration was conducted at Edwards AFB with the 419th Flight Test Squadron due to its experience with testing on the platform.
Capt. Timothy Grace, test weapons systems officer, 419th FLTS, provided technical expertise about the B-1B aircraft used for the demonstration and was able to explain to the group how the proposed concept is relevant to the warfighter.
“I wanted to make sure it was tested correctly and reviewed it to make sure it’s relevant to the warfighter,” Grace said. “And absolutely, there are things we can use this for.”
Another point he made was how quickly the bulkhead modification can be accomplished, and then reversed.
“It’s not a permanent modification, it’s something that can be done through a few work shifts with the Maintenance (Flight),” he said. “So depending on what the targets are that we’re going after, the weapons we need to carry, we can move that bulkhead, and do the external carriage.”
From a commander’s viewpoint, the expanded carriage would open up better planning options, said Col. Richard Barksdale, 28th Operations Group commander, from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota.
“It would basically increase the weapons capacity to make the bomber more efficient, so that we’re able to strike more targets with the same aircraft,” Barksdale said. “It would allow us to more efficiently plan for targeting and use fewer aircraft with fewer aircrews in harm’s way to strike the same number of targets. It would also decrease the support required, whether that’s tankers or other support assets.”
Barksdale compared the added capability to having “more arrows in the quiver of the B-1.”
“It really shows the aircraft was originally designed for that capability; to move that bulkhead forward and make a larger bay, it shows the forethought of the original engineers and now, that can potentially come into fruition,” Barksdale said. “To me, just the opportunity to increase the weapons load capacity is pretty exciting. It’s a pretty impressive capability.”
Ross said the initial idea was brought forth from B-1B crews, including himself. He previously served as a B-1B weapons systems officer, and then as a pilot. His role as the B-1B program element manager allowed him the ability to reach out to the appropriate organizations to demonstrate the idea.
“I was very adamant about making that happen because it was something that I wanted to have happen the whole time I was flying it,” Ross said. “I was ‘full afterburner’ to make sure we got this thing to where we are at, and to hopefully continue on to make it a reality.”
CORRECTION: Story corrected on September 08 at 08:37 (GMT+0000) to note that the U.S. Air Force just starting to look at the idea and engaging industry partners regarding the possibility.