And during a Senate hearing last year, Sen. John McCain pushed back hard on Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James’s description of the B-1 as an effective airplane for “close air support,” or the delivery of precision-guided bombs in support of embattled ground troops. “That’s a remarkable statement,” McCain scoffed. “That doesn’t comport with any experience I’ve ever had, nor anyone I know has ever had.”
What McCain didn’t seem to be aware of, and what the Times report failed to note, is the long third act of the B-1’s life. Converted in the 1990s from a Soviet-airspace-penetrating nuclear strike plane to a conventional bomber meant to pound the infrastructure and massed formations of an enemy army, the “Bone” converted again in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, into exactly what the Arizona senator found so hard to believe: not just a close air support plane, but, by all accounts, a hugely successful one.
A nice write-up in the WaPo about the Bone.
The excerpt above simply shows how out of touch John McCain is, and why he’s long overdue for retirement. The days of rolling an A-4 into a 30 degree dive to drop a pair of Snakeyes for Close Air Support are long gone.
The B-1 is not just a good Close Air Support platform, it’s often the preferred platform. First, its three huge bomb bays can carry a massive load of bombs. And a recent upgrade of the system allows it to carry a wide “mix and match” variety of different bombs, for different types of targets.
It also has incredible endurance. For instance, F-18s cycling over Afghanistan or Iraq will typically have to cycle off station to a tanker every hour. A B-1 can stay on station for four or more hours.
It took a long time (and a lot of money) to make the B-1 a modern, capable combat aircraft. But today it is performing far and away better than it ever has before.