Carrying the largest conventional payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force 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.
The B-1B's blended wing/body configuration, variable-geometry wings and turbofan afterburning engines, combine to provide long range, maneuverability and high speed while enhancing survivability. Forward wing settings are used for takeoff, landings, air refueling and in some high-altitude weapons employment scenarios. Aft wing sweep settings - the main combat configuration -- are typically used during high subsonic and supersonic flight, enhancing the B-1B's maneuverability in the low- and high-altitude regimes. The B-1B's speed and superior handling characteristics allow it to seamlessly integrate in mixed force packages. These capabilities, when combined with its substantial payload, excellent radar targeting system, long loiter time and survivability, make the B-1B a key element of any joint/composite strike force.
The B-1 is a highly versatile, multi-mission weapon system. The B-1B's synthetic aperture radar is capable of tracking, targeting and engaging moving vehicles as well as self-targeting and terrain-following modes. In addition, an extremely accurate Global Positioning System-aided Inertial Navigation System enables aircrews to navigate without the aid of ground-based navigation aids as well as engage targets with a high level of precision. The addition of a fully integrated data link (FIDL) with Link-16 capability provides improved battlefield situation awareness and secure beyond line of sight reach back connectivity. In a time sensitive targeting environment, the aircrew can use targeting data received from the Combined Air Operations Center or other command and control assets to strike emerging targets rapidly and efficiently.
The B-1B's onboard self-protection electronic jamming equipment, radar warning receiver (ALQ-161) and expendable countermeasures (chaff and flare) system and a towed decoy system (ALE-50) complements its low-radar cross-section to form an integrated, robust defense system that supports penetration of hostile airspace. The ALQ-161 electronic countermeasures system detects and identifies the full spectrum of adversary threat emitters then applies the appropriate jamming technique either automatically or through operator inputs.
Current modifications build on this foundation. Radar sustainability and capability upgrades will provide a more reliable system and may be upgraded in the future to include an ultra high-resolution capability and automatic target recognition. The addition of Link-16 and FIDL combined with associated cockpit upgrades will provide the crew with a much more flexible, integrated cockpit, and will allow the B-1 to operate in the fast-paced integrated battlefield of the future. Several obsolete and hard to maintain electronic systems are also being replaced to improve aircraft reliability.
The B-1A was initially developed in the 1970s as a replacement for the B-52. Four prototypes of this long-range, high speed (Mach 2.2) strategic bomber were developed and tested in the mid-1970s, but the program was canceled in 1977 before going into production. Flight testing continued through 1981.
The B-1B is an improved variant initiated by the Reagan administration in 1981. Major changes included and additional structure to increase payload by 74,000 pounds, an improved radar and reduction of the radar cross section by an order of magnitude. The inlet was extensively modified as part of this RCS reduction, necessitating a reduction in maximum speed to Mach 1.2.
The first production B-1 flew in October 1984, and the first B-1B was delivered to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, in June 1985. Initial operational capability was achieved on Oct. 1, 1986. The final B-1B was delivered May 2, 1988.
The United States eliminated the nuclear mission for the B-1 in 1994. Even though the Air Force expended no further funding to maintain nuclear capabilities, the B-1 was still considered a heavy bomber equipped for nuclear armament until 2007. The conversion to conventional only began in November 2007 under the original START treaty and was completed in March 2011 under the New START treaty. To make that conversion possible, two steps were taken:
During the first step a metal cylindrical sleeve was welded into the aft attachment point of each set of B-1 pylon attachments. This prevented installing B-1 Air Launched Cruise Missile pylons.
During the second step two nuclear armament-unique cable connectors in each of the B-1 weapons bays were removed. This prevented the pre-arm signal from reaching the weapons.
The B-1B holds almost 50 world records for speed, payload, range, and time of climb in its class. The National Aeronautic Association recognized the B-1B for completing one of the 10 most memorable record flights for 1994. The most recent records were made official in 2004.
The B-1B was first used in combat in support of operations against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. In 1999, six B-1s were used in Operation Allied Force, delivering more than 20 percent of the total ordnance while flying less than 2 percent of the combat sorties.
During the first six months of Operation Enduring Freedom, eight B-1s dropped nearly 40 percent of the total tonnage delivered by coalition air forces. This included nearly 3,900 JDAMs, or 67 percent of the total. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the aircraft flew less than 1 percent of the combat missions while delivering 43 percent of the JDAMs used. The B-1 continues to be deployed today, flying missions daily in support of continuing operations.
- Primary Function: Long-range, multi-role, heavy bomber
- Contractor: Boeing, North America (formerly Rockwell International, North American Aircraft); Offensive avionics, Boeing Military Airplane; Defensive Avionics, EDO - Corporation
- Power plant: Four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engine with afterburner
- Thrust: 30,000-plus pounds with afterburner, per engine
- Wingspan: 137 feet (41.8 meters) extended forward, 79 feet (24.1 meters) swept aft
- Length: 146 feet (44.5 meters)
- Height: 34 feet (10.4 meters)
- Weight: approximately 190,000 pounds (86,183 kilograms)
- Maximum Takeoff Weight: 477,000 pounds (216,634 kilograms)
- Fuel Capacity: 265,274 pounds (120,326 kilograms)
- Payload: 75,000 pounds (34,019 kilograms)
- Speed: 900-plus mph (Mach 1.2 at sea level)
- Range: Intercontinental
- Ceiling: More than 30,000 feet (9,144 meters)
- Armament: 84 500-pound Mk-82 or 24 2,000-pound Mk-84 general purpose bombs; up to 84 500-pound Mk-62 or 8 2,000-pound Mk-65 Quick Strike naval mines; 30 cluster munitions (CBU-87, -89, -97) or 30 Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispensers (CBU-103, -104, -105); up to 24 2,000-pound GBU-31 or 15 500 pound GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions; up to 24 AGM-158A Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles; 15 GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions
- Crew: Four (aircraft commander, copilot, and two combat systems officers)
- Unit Cost: $317 million
- Initial operating capability: October 1986
- Inventory: Active force, 62 (test, 2); ANG, 0; Reserve, 0
Source: U.S. Air Force
Photo courtesy: U.S. Air Force