Why the B-1 May Become a Hypersonic Missile Carrier

Michael Peck

The B-1 bomber’s future may be hypersonic.

The U.S. Air Force is considering whether to modify the Lancer to mount hypersonic missiles. The idea is to expand the weapons capacity of the B-1, a 1970s swing-wing, supersonic bomber that once carried nuclear weapons during the Cold War and is now a bomb truck for conventional smart bombs. The aircraft has been long plagued by maintenance woes that as of June 2019, have left only a few of the Air Force’s 62 B-1Bs fit to fly.

The 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force, California, recently demonstrated how the aircraft could be modified with both a longer bomb bay and the ability to mount external weapons.

“The two potential programs – external carriage and long bay options – would allow the B-1B to carry weapons externally, significantly increasing its magazine capacity for munitions, as well as adding larger, heavier munitions, such as hypersonic weapons,” the Air Force said.

A forward bulkhead was moved to lengthen the Lancer’s intermediate bomb bay from 180 to 269 inches while carry external munitions on six of the aircraft’s eight hard points. “It increases the magazine capacity of the B-1B,” said Lt. Col. Dominic Ross, B-1B program element monitor at Air Force Global Strike Command. “Currently we can carry 24 weapons internally, now it can be increased to potentially 40 based on what type of pylon we would create. This gets the B-1 into the larger weapons, the 5,000-pounders. It gets it into the hypersonics game as well.”

Interestingly, a B-1B mockup showed a mock hypersonic missile attached to a Conventional Rotary Launcher The new CRL is a rotating mechanism carried in the bomb bay, which allows an aircraft to carry more munitions. It is already being fitted to the B-52.

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