Since the B-52 is up for modernization and until the full use of the B-21, which is due at Dyess no earlier than the mid-2020s, it’s essential that the B-1 continue to be a first-choice bomber option.
On Sep. 28, 2021 two Boeing officials attended the quarterly meeting of the Military Affairs Committee of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce on and spoke about giving the B-1 bomber the capability to launch hypersonic missiles, Alert5.com reported.
Robert Gass (former Dyess Air Force Base (AFB) commander who retired as vice commander of the 8th Air Force and now is strategic development and investment manager for Boeing’s bombers program) and Dan Ruder (B-1 advanced programs manager) spoke to about 75 people at the Abilene Country Club.
Since the B-52 is up for modernization and until the full use of the B-21, which is due at Dyess no earlier than the mid-2020s, it’s essential, they said, that the B-1 continue to be a first-choice bomber option.
As reported by Abilene Reporter News, there was good news and bad news. The good news, of course, is what hypersonic weaponry can provide for the nation’s defense. The bad news is that the U.S. years ago did not pursue this kind of weaponry and the nation now is behind both Russia and China. Both, Gass said, while responding to questions, have tested such weapons.
The plan basically is to reactivate the capabilities of the B-1 to accommodate these kinds of weapons that are fired externally. He called hypersonic weapons “the next big thing in bombers.”
Asked if that also meant the B-21 (of which five test samples are in production in Palmdale, Calif.), currently in development, Ruder only could speak to outfitting the B-1 for this capability.
Gass said hypersonic weapons “go real fast.” Ruder later explained that fast means Mach 20, or more than 14,000 mph.
Gass went on explaining that there are two types of hypersonic missiles.
One is “boost glide rocket propulsion,” which sends the missile into space and then down to its target at the speed of the re-entry of the space shuttle.
The warheads are not big but with that speed, the target is destroyed.
Moreover these missiles also are maneuverable meaning that they can “evade interception by enemy air defenses.”
Intercontinental ballistic missiles instead are easy to destroy because they approach targets more like a bullet.
“We can shoot those down,” Gass said. And, he added, so can the US adversaries.
The second type is “air-breathing” missiles, which are not as fast nor can go the same distances. However, these are smaller, so an aircraft can carry more of them.
The USAF aims to outfit the B-1 to carry both.
Another advantage of hypersonic weapons is that aircraft won’t have to be as close to the target. Gass called that a “more survivable distance.”
Ruder’s portion of the talk was to explain how this was going to work with the B-1.
He said Australia, France and India are behind the US, but the concern is in Russia and China being ahead.
“We are trying to catch back up,” he said.
The B-1 external pylons were removed from the Lancer as a result of the 1980s treaties that established that the bomber mission no longer was to carry nuclear weapons.
As the photos in this post show, the B-1B has six external hardpoints that were designed to carry the AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). These hardpoints were covered up except for one on the port side for the Sniper pod.
An expanded carriage demonstration on the B-1B was carried out by the 412th Test Wing in 2019. Maintainers were able to separate the bulkhead of the front and intermediate weapons bay to create one bay long enough to carry hypersonic weapons.
Last year the US Air Force (USAF) said that its goal is to bring on at least a squadron’s worth of airplanes modified with external pylons on the B-1, to carry hypersonic cruise missiles.
“It’s not going to be cheap,” Ruder said. The project will have to navigate tighter defense budgeting – “headwinds,” Gass called it.
Only the B-1s still active will be involved in the program, not the 17 Lancers sent to the “boneyard” for storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.
A load adaptive modular (LAM) pylon concept has been developed to allow two missiles to be attached to the bomber at the six points, Ruder explained.
The target goal for development is September 2022, when testing could begin.
The biggest missiles, he said, weigh 5,000 pounds and are more than 20 feet in length. A bomber is needed as opposed to a lighter weight fighter to house more missiles.
There are several hypersonic programs in development, Gass said, so as “not to put all of our eggs in one basket.”
Hypersonic weapons will provide global strike capability that is below nuclear deterrence, the speakers said.
Both, too, noted the US needs to follow this bomber roadmap of integration.
“China and Russia are ahead of us in developing the ability to launch maneuvering warheads,” Gass said. “We are playing catchup now.”
Photo credit: Boeing and U.S. Air Force