American plane-maker Boeing has confirmed in a recent company news release that the U.S. Air Force plans to retire 17 of the oldest B-1 B-1B Lancer bombers in 2021.
As noted by the company, continuous Lancer’s bomber support operations over the last 20 years have taken a toll on the airframe’s structure due to overuse in a manner not commensurate with its planned design.
Currently, a portion of the B-1B strike aircraft are in a state that will require tens of millions of dollars per aircraft to get back to a status quo fleet in the short term until the B-21 Raider comes online. As such, Air Force officials proposed the retirement of 17 structurally deficient B-1Bs in 2021 so that maintenance dollars and manpower can be focused on the healthiest aircraft in the fleet.
In addition, earlier in February 2020, the U.S. Air Force reported that the B-1’s long-planned retirement timeframe is a key component to effective fleet management during the transition to the B-21. The Air Force will gradually retire B-1s, beginning with the most costly and structurally deficient of the airframes. By adopting a phased retirement approach, this will allow overlap between legacy and next generation bombers.
Meanwhile, the rest of the bomber fleet will be upgraded to play a critical role in alignment with the Air Force vision for the future.
Ongoing structural analysis indicates changes to flight training profiles will extend the life of the airframe, giving the margin needed to transition our bomber force.
“While we may adapt the manner in which we fly, there will be no loss in the B-1’s global strike capabilities,” a USAF news release states.
In a recent experiment, the Air Force also demonstrated it was possible to increase the internal and external storage capacity of the B-1, adding additional Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and the possibility of hypersonic weapons.