The U.S. Air Force has released images of a B-1 bomber carrying an inert AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile cruise missile on a pylon under its fuselage for the first time.
This was part of a demonstration program that the service hopes will lead to these aircraft being certified to carry up to 12 JASSMs, or AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile derivatives, externally, in addition to 24 more of either of those weapons in its internal bomb bays.
The Air Force has also said in the past that it looking at integrating hypersonic weapons onto the B-1 in the future using external pylons.
On November 24, the service announced that the flight featured a B -1B Lancer assigned to the 412th Test Wing’s 419th Flight Test Squadron, Global Power Combined Test Force, and carried an inert Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile under an external pylon for the first time.
According to an Air Force news release, the flight was a demonstration of the B-1B’s external weapons carriage capabilities.
“Adapting a small number of our healthiest B-1s to carry hypersonic weapons is vital to bridge between the bomber force we have today, to the force of tomorrow,” said Gen. Tim Ray, Air Force Global Strike Command commander.
“This is a major step forward in our global precision fires capability and it is important we pursue these technologies to remain ahead of our competitors. My goal is to have a limited number of B-1s modified to become the roving linebacker of the western Pacific and the North Atlantic.
The captive carry flight was the culmination of the numerous ground tests that began with last year’s expanded carriage demonstration that included a modified internal bomb bay, which featured a moveable bulkhead. The demonstration showcased a configuration of the B-1 that would allow the aircraft to carry larger-sized weapons both internally and externally.
“We’re essentially displaying our external weapons carriage capability,” said Maj. Bret Cunningham, a B-1B test pilot with the 419th FLTS. “We have a JASSM weapon on what is traditionally the targeting pod pylon on the forward right hard point, so we are demonstrating that the B-1 has the capability to carry weapons and employ them externally.”
This extensive engineering review will help the Air Force understand areas where it needs to focus on to maintain the B-1B as a multi-mission weapon system, potentially laying the groundwork for integration of future weapons on the aircraft.
The B-1B was initially designed to incorporate a moveable bulkhead and usable external hard points for its original nuclear mission, however the U.S. shifted the Lancer’s mission to conventional weapons in 1994. The physical conversion to conventional-only armaments started in 2007 with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and was finished in 2011.
The demonstration could mean a potential boon for combatant commanders as the increase in weapons stores remedies an immediate shortfall due to the limited number of strategic bombers. The proposed increase in capacity means that two bombers would equal to three bombers’ worth of weapons.
Following the captive carry mission, engineers will then review the data gathered from the flight before moving on to the next of phase of the demonstration; an external weapons release.
“For us, we’re looking to do this safely, since this is the first time we will release a weapon from the external hard point in over 30 years,” said Agustin Martinez, project test lead. “So we pretty much focused on doing a safe build up approach…to make sure the JASSM and the B-1 are communicating correctly; the JASSM has correct surface deployment timelines so once it does get released it will safely separate.”