The United States Air Force have 60 B-1B Lancers in service, split between two Bomb Wings at two Air Force Bases. AeroResource’s Jason Grant and Mark Forest visited the B-1Bs of the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess AFB, situated just outside Abilene, Texas, to finds out how developments and upgrades have made the B-1B into one of the most capable and lethal bombers in the world today.
The B-1 Lancer, affectionately known as The Bone (a play on the name B-One), was first envisaged during the 1960s as a |Mach 2 long range bomber, capable of taking over the role of the venerable Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. The first B-1A flew on 23 December 1974, at the beginning of what the US Air Force called “probably the most successful flight test programme of all time”. However, global politics and evolving warfare were not on the side of the Lancer. Developed during the 1970s as a result of the lengthy design study that began with the Subsonic Low Altitude Bomber (SLAB) and ended with the Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft (AMSA), the initial Rockwell B-1A suffered from a change in the strategic balance between massive retaliation and flexible response, with the B-1A being designed for the latter. This change in stance coupled with high costs (by the time President Carter took office in 1977, costs had risen to over $100 Million per aircraft – $390 Million in 2012 Dollars) ultimately brought about the cancellation of the B-1 project on June 30 1976, and the mothballing of the four prototypes. Carter instead favoured the use of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, updated B-52s and the utilisation of full stealth technology in the Advanced Bomber Project – only later publically unveiled as the Northrop B-2A Spirit.
The need for a Long-Range Combat Aircraft (LRCA) re-emerged in the early 1980s with further Soviet weaponry advancements, once again putting the B-1 on the table as an option. Stealth technology was being developed behind the scenes and it offered a dramatic improvement in capability but it was also accepted that the Advanced Technology Bomber would not be operational before a new, enhanced version of the original B-1A could enter service. Combined with the fact that the B-52 was becoming increasingly vulnerable to new, more advanced cold war threats (such as the SA-10 “Grumble”), in October 1982 the go ahead was given to bring the B-1 program back into development to cover the transition period between the B-52 and the ATB introduction. In January 1983, Rockwell was awarded the $2.2 billion LRCA contract to develop and produce 100 B-1 bombers.
Changes to the original design included a redesigned simpler intake ramp which reduced the maximum speed from Mach 2.22 to Mach 1.25, whilst greatly reducing the radar signature of the aircraft. With the advent of higher speed Russian Interceptors and missiles, staying ahead of the adversary was no longer so important – staying hidden was. The B-52 had a Radar Cross Section of approximately 1,070 sq.ft, whilst the original B-1 dropped by an order of magnitude to 107 sq.ft. Later developments in the B-1B further dropped this to just 29 sq.ft.
Low level speeds were increased to Mach 0.92 to allow for near sonic dashes at low level during run in and run out from a target. The Maximum Take-off weight was also increased to 477,000 pounds
The B-1B also featured an upgraded electronic warfare suite, comprising of an Offensive Avionics System and Defensive Avionics System, both of which were state of the art at their time of installation. Indeed the DAS system as installed was too advanced, and failed to reach maturity on the aircraft. An eventual upgrade in the early 2000s eventually solved the shortfalls.
Of the four original B-1A prototypes, two of them were modified and used for the B-1B flight test program which began in March 1983. The first actual production B-1B rolled-out on the 4th September 1984, followed by its first flight a month later on 18th October 1984. Production continued for the next four years with the 100th B-1B delivered on 2nd May 1988.
Carrying the largest payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force inventory, the multi-mission B-1 is the backbone of America’s long-range bomber force. It can rapidly deliver massive quantities of precision and non-precision weapons against any adversary, anywhere in the world, at any time. During the 2011 Libyan conflict, two B-1Bs from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth AFB conducted the longest B-1 mission ever (details are still not public, but the mission was said to be at least 20% longer than the previous maximum). Hitting almost 100 ground targets during the attack, the aircraft returned to Ellsworth almost three days after departing, and a full 24 hours after committing their attacks.
The B-1B also proved it’s worth in a new theatre during 2011, when the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron successfully dropped 10 Joint Direct Attack Munition weapons onto high speed manoeuvrable marine targets – i.e. boats. Weapons dropped were a mixture of laser, GPS and unguided weapons, with the Sniper XR pod being used to designate and target the marine contacts.
The B-1B is a, long-range, multi-role heavy bomber with four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engine capable of 30,000 plus pounds with afterburner per engine. With a wingspan of 137 feet extended forward or 79 feet swept back, the 146 feet long, 34 feet high swing wing bomber has a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 and a ceiling of more than 30,000 feet. Capable of air-to-air refuelling from KC-135 and KC-10 tankers, its range is Intercontinental – aptly proved by the Odyssey Dawn mission in 2011.
The B-1B has three internal weapons bays – a forward, intermediate and aft bay. Each bay can be configured for different weapons fits, but typically uses a rotary launcher to carry munitions. The weapons bays can also be utilised to carry additional fuel tanks, extending the range of the B-1. As well as internal weaponry, the B-1 can carry external armament (but is limited by the START treaty), as well as target acquisition pods such as SNIPER XR.
Typical weapons profiles may include:
84 x 500-pound Mk-82 or 24 x 2,000-pound Mk-84 general purpose bombs
84 x 500-pound Mk-62 or 8 x 2,000-pound Mk-65 Quick Strike naval mines
30 cluster munitions (CBU-87, -89, -97) or 30 Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispensers (CBU-103, -104, -105)
24 x 2,000-pound GBU-31 or 15 x 500-pound GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions
24 AGM-158A Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles
GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions
Whilst designed with a nuclear role, the B-1B is no longer equipped to carry nuclear missiles, instead fulfilling a conventional mission. The nuclear role is left to the US Navy submarine fleet, ICBMs and the B-2A Spirit.
Crew and Operations
The B-1B consists of a four person crew; Pilot, Co-Pilot, Offensive System Officer and a Defensive System Officer. Pilot and Co-Pilot sit side by side, as do the System Officers, who sit in a separate compartment behind the cockpit.
The Offensive System Officer uses a radar generated map to guide the pilots to the target. Upon reaching the target, the onboard computer decides the optimum point to release the munitions for the required attack profile and target. 3 seconds later up to 84 munitions can be accurately released from the Lancer’s internal weapons bays.
When a Defensive System Officer receives a warning of enemy aircraft in the area, the pilot points the nose down by 20 degrees, engages the terrain following mode and let’s go of the stick. With the wings swept back, the aircraft drops from 25,000 feet to 500 feet in less than a minute. The bombers best means of survival is to hide in the ground clutter hugging the deck at near the speed of sound. The pilot can take control at this point or the aircraft can fly itself. The fins on the aircraft nose increase stability at low level. When the aircraft is in a hostile area, the crew turn off all non essential electronics to reduce the B-1B’s footprint. The B-1 also carries the AN/ALE-50 Towed Decoy System, which can be deployed behind the aircraft to protect both crew and aircraft from inbound missile threats.
The B-1B requires 12 maintenance hours per flight hour and a major strip down service takes place every 18 months. So far during 2012, all Dyess AFB detached jets have 100% service capability which is a testame nt to all the staff involved with the 7th Bomb Wing. This figure is especially impressive when compared to the figure of just over a decade ago, when the mission ready capability of the B-1B fleet had fallen to only 51%, mainly as a result of maintenance.
Since its production, the B-1B has benefitted from a series of upgrades, the first being the Conventional Mission Upgrade Program, or CMUP, which enabled the use of precision guided conventional weapons. Electronic countermeasures have also been upgraded as have the avionics computers. The latest upgrade which has been integrated into the B-1 fleet is the Sniper XR (Extended Range) targeting pod. When utilised, this can be clearly seen attached to an external hardpoint near the forward weapon bay. The Sniper pod provides positive target identification, autonomous tracking, co-ordinate generation and precise weapons guidance from extended standoff ranges. During 2012, the B-1B began trials of the GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), with six of the weapons being dropped by Ellsworth based Lancers during Weapon System Evaluation Programme (WSEP) Combat Hammer. This significant upgrade will increase the targeting accuracy to the B-1B fleet. The B-1B is currently being equipped with the Fully Integrated Data Link (FIDL) which allows electronic data sharing and is voice satellite capable. This upgrade program will be complete by fiscal year 2014. FIDL, part of the Sustainment Block 16 program will be integrated alongside the MIDS LVT-1 Radio, allowing the B-1B to access the Link-16 network, which provides the Lancer with the ability to send and receive text messages, images and mission assignments whilst still in the air.
In July 2011, Boeing announced the Integrated Battle Station (IBS) program for modification of the B-1 fleet. Upgrades will include new display units in the cockpit (four new multi-function colour displays, replacing the old monochrome displays) and a Central Integrated Test System.
Operations and Achievements
Operation Desert Fox was the combat debut of the B-1B. Four Lancers deployed to Oman, with the first combat mission involving dropping Mk.82 “iron” bombs onto a Republican Guard barracks within Iraq.
During Operation Allied Force (the bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and codenamed Operation Noble Anvil by the USA), 6 B-1Bs flew less than 2% of Allied sorties but dropped more than 20% of the total munitions. Lancers from Ellsworth were deployed during the campaign, flying over 100 missions with weapons drops in excess of 1,200 tonnes.
Operation Allied Freedom: Using only 8 deployed B-1Bs, the aircraft flew 5% of the total sorties but dropped 39% of the total munitions. Aircraft were deployed from both Ellsworth and Mountain Home (the latter no longer has a B-1 unit assigned) to Diego Garcia, and held a combat effectiveness of over 95% during the operation. Almost 5000 weapons were deployed by Lancers during the conflict.
Operation Iraqi Freedom: The B-1B again has impressive statistics for their involvement in this conflict. The Lancer fleet flew 1% of the sorties and dropped 35% of the total munitions.
The B-1B Lancer currently holds approximately 49 world records for speed, payload, range and time of climb in class. In 2008, the B-1B became the first aircraft to fly supersonic using a mix of 50% JP8 Jet fuel and 50% Synthetic fuel which was derived from natural gas.
An out of service date of 2025 has been given but with the spiralling costs of aircraft development and a heavy reliance on the B-1B to precisely deliver a massive amount of ordinance anywhere in the world at any time, it is difficult to see the B-1B leaving the front line of operations within this time frame. The Aircraft Structural Integrity Program determined that the economically useful life of the aircraft will probably continue until around 2038, when the wing lower skins will need to be replace – a major undertaking both in terms of cost and maintenance.The B-1B continues to be the Backbone of the American long-range bomber force today and will continue to be so well into the next decade.
AeroResource would like to thank 2nd Lt Ferrara, Deputy Chief of the Public Affairs’ Office for taking the time to arrange and guide them through the visit at Dyess AFB. We would also like to thank all the staff who were involved with the visit for kindly allowing the access and providing the information for this report.