Military Aviation

Celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the Combat Debut of the B-1B Lancer

In December 1998 the B-1B would get the nod to make its combat debut as part of a four-day military response, Operation Desert Fox, to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein expelling United Nations weapons inspectors out of Iraq

December 18, 2018 marked the 20-year anniversary of the first operational combat debut of the B-1B Lancer.

The B-1’s blended wing and body configuration, variable-geometry wings and turbofan afterburning engines, combine to provide long range, maneuverability and high speed.

As explained by Airman 1st Class Kylee Thomas, 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs, in the article The B-1B Lancer: 20 years of global power, while this bomber is responsible for carrying the largest conventional payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) 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.

“Two main areas that set the B-1 apart in regards to its contributions, is its ability to carry extensive amounts of fuel and munitions,” said Col. Brandon Parker, 7th Bomb Wing commander. “With the amount of fuel we have, our “playtime” supporting troops on the ground before needing to aerial refuel can be hours above other platforms. Additionally, with the amount of weapons we have we can provide Close Air Support for hours. If a crew expends all of their weapons they can still assist in the fight using both our Radar and Targeting Pod to perform Non-Traditional Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.”

In November 1998, the 9th Bomb Squadron and the 37th BS, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, deployed a contingent of rugged looking and confident aircrew and a handful of jets to grab the attention of one of the Middle East’s most notorious tyrants on a mission called Operation Desert Fox (ODF).

In December, the B-1 would get the nod to make its combat debut as part of a four-day military response, ODF, to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein expelling United Nations weapons inspectors out of Iraq.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-1B Lancer 28th FW, 34th BS Thunderbirds, EL/86-129 / 2005

“On the second night of the operation, December 18, Slam 1 and Slam 2, consisting of both 9th and 37th BS crews, joined Navy aircraft and dropped bombs in anger for the very first time,” said Parker. “These strikes were followed the next night when the next set of 9th and 37 BS crews in Slam 3 and 4 struck again.”

This operation changed the way the USAF fights with the first combat debut of the B-1 in support of ODF. This mission caused significant destruction of Iraqi military infrastructure and degradation of their missile development program, forever changing the way the B-1 is viewed by U.S. adversaries.

Since participating in ODF, the B-1 has continued to advance and become an even more valuable asset to the Air Force mission. Technological developments have increased its effectiveness by making the weapons it employs both smarter and more flexible.

Munitions such as the GBU-31, GBU-38 and laser guided JDAMs have provided the B-1 with the capability to better engage both fixed and moving targets. These innovations have been used in operations such as Enduring Freedom, Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel.

The B-1 has come a long way in its first 20 years of combat and has supported the Air Force mission and helped in maintaining the freedom of the United States.

“I’m extremely proud of the entire team of people who have allowed the B-1 to still contribute 20 years later,” said Parker. “This is from the civilian engineers and program managers, to the Airmen fixing the jet, the crew chiefs launching sorties regardless of the weather and the aircrew who are fortunate enough to fly the B-1.”

Battle damage assessment of the Al Kut Republican Guard barracks in western Iraq after the first B-1 bomber dropped munitions on it during Operation Desert Fox, December 1998. The four-night military offensive caused significant destruction to Iraqi military infrastructure.

Photo credit: Lt. Col. John Martin / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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