If you had told me 20 years ago that the B-1B would become a preferred platform for close air support, I’d have told you to quit smoking crack…
Airmen from the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron began their first phase of demonstrations of a multiple ejector rack on a B-1B Lancer here March 22.
If fielded, 16-carry modified rotary launchers will increase the number of 500-pound joint direct attack munitions and laser-guided JDAMs carried by the B-1B from 15 to 48, a 320 percent increase in capability.
“Currently a B-1 can deliver twice the payload of a B-52 (Stratofortress), meaning, theoretically, with the MER upgrade, one B-1 will be able to deliver the same amount of payload as four B-52s,” said Col. Gerald Goodfellow, the 7th Operations Group commander.
The Bone was originally designed to penetrate Soviet airspace and deliver nuclear attacks on the commies. Any conventional attack role was decidedly secondary. The Air Force presumed that older B-52s would be better suited for the Arc Light type missions they had flown in Vietnam.
But between the fielding of the B-2 bomber, and the change in the strategic environment after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the B-1 fleet became surplus to the nuclear strike role. Accordingly, all nuclear capability has been removed from them. As precision guided bombs such as the JDAM have become common, the B-1 acquired an ability to perform strikes close to friendly troops, rather than just plastering area targets such as airfields with a hail of dumb bombs (they they can still do that pretty damn well).
Add in state of the art targeting pods such as the Sniper, and the ability to transmit the video feed to the troops via systems such as ROVER, and you have a platform that can employ Laser Guided Bombs, and give troops on the ground excellent intel. Finally, with its enormous weapons load and ability to loiter overhead for considerable periods of time, and the Bone is a very attractive option for close air support in a permissive environment such as Afghanistan.