The story of the B-1B supersonic gunship, The Bone armed with the AH-64 Apache 30mm ‘chain gun’ that never was

The story of the B-1B supersonic gunship, The Bone armed with the AH-64 Apache 30mm ‘chain gun’ that never was

By Dario Leone
Jun 18 2024
Sponsored by: Mortons Books
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The Bone

Nicknamed “The Bone,” the B-1B Lancer is a long-range, multi-mission, supersonic conventional bomber, which has served the United States Air Force since 1985. The aircraft is on track to continue flying, at current demanding operations tempo, out to 2040 and beyond, and Boeing partners with the Air Force to keep the B-1 mission ready.

Originally designed for nuclear capabilities, the B-1 switched to an exclusively conventional combat role in the mid-1990s. In 1999, during Operation Allied Force, six B-1s flew 2 percent of the strike missions, yet dropped 20 percent of the ordnance, and during Operation Enduring Freedom the B-1 flew on 2 percent of the sorties while dropping over 40 percent of the precision weapons.

The B-1B Gunship

As told by Scott Lowther in his book US Supersonic Bomber Projects, in 2016 Boeing applied for, and in 2018 received, a patent covering various approaches towards turning the B-1B into a ‘gunship’. The gun in question seems to have been something akin to the 30mm ‘chain gun’ used by the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter though depicted at various sizes, sometimes two differently sized cannon being shown side-by-side.

The purpose of this armament would be precision attack of ground targets; something like taking out specific individuals, perhaps, or close support of troops on the ground.

The story of the B-1B supersonic gunship, The Bone armed with the AH-64 Apache 30mm ‘chain gun’ that never was

Given the altitude that the B-1B tended to loiter at, though, a relatively small cannon round, no matter how well aimed, would be lucky to hit its target. Of course, progress has been made in recent years on guided projectiles as small as .50 calibre, so it’s possible that a single shot fired from miles above could be placed onto the head of a specific rather unfortunate individual.

The patent illustrations show concepts such as turrets that would deploy from opened B-1B weapons bays, or guns attached to new full-width bomb bay doors. When opened, the guns would fire ‘sideways’ in the manner well known from the AC-130 gunship. In this case, the gun would doubtless be fired fully automatically and at a higher rate of fire.

Faster than the AC-130

A B-1B gunship would have less damage potential than the AC-130, which is armed with everything up to and include a 105mm howitzer; but the B-1B gunship would have the advantage of being much faster, able to get rounds on target much sooner.

Little beyond the patent has come out on this concept. Presumably the system would be a plug-in module, not permanent modification to the aircraft, and the B-1B could continue to carry a substantial load of laser or GPS guided bombs in the other two weapons bays.

The B-1B has also from time to time been proposed as a carrier for a laser weapon system to be used to attack ground targets, low-flying aircraft and missiles, and ballistic missile in boost phase. However, this idea also seems to have produced no actual hardware.

US Supersonic Bomber Projects is published by Mortons Books and is available to order here.

Meet B-1B “Lancelot,” the Lancer pulled from the 309th AMARG to rejoin USAF Strategic Bomber Fleet
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-1B Lancer 28th FW, 34th BS Thunderbirds, EL/86-129 / 2005

Photo credit: Boeing / U.S. Patent Office


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Dario Leone

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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