A battle for the future of the B-1 fleet

A battle for the future of the B-1 fleet

Here’s an update on an issue you first read about here on Buzz several months ago: The Air Force wants to begin paring back its fleet of B-1B Lancers ever so slowly, first retiring six aircraft and then eventually phasing out the Lancers as its fleet of new hyper-bombers theoretically comes online. Congressional lawmakers with B-1s based in their districts vowed to fight this plan, arguing that the B-1 is the greatest aircraft ever flown, that it’s as cheap as daylight, that taking these six out of service would leave America defenseless against world villainy — you know the drill. Now, it appears, some bomber backers are  acknowledging that if they can’t save this batch of B-1s, they want to keep the greenbacks “saved” by their retirement, and guarantee the future of the rest of the fleet.

Nick Penzenstadler of the Raid City Journal — whose hometown Ellsworth AFB, S.D. stands to lose two of the six B-1s — writes that lawmakers appear willing to accept a tactical loss here in order to secure a strategic victory:

A House version of the [defense] bill seeks to protect cuts to the combat aircraft at Ellsworth. Now, the Senate wants to ensure savings go back into the program and protect the fleet from further retirements in the next 10 years.

“A portion of the savings from this reduction would fund needed modifications and upgrades to the B-1, while the remainder would be re-invested in other U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense capabilities needed to balance war fighting capabilities across the force,” said Col. Mark Weatherington, commander at Ellsworth.

A Senate Armed Services Committee document obtained by the Journal calls for at least 60 percent of the savings to be reinvested in the U.S. military’s entire bomber fleet, of which 35 percent must specifically go back into the B-1.

Exactly how much money would be saved by the cuts is unclear, but the committee included a request to the Air Force for specifics in its budget document. Retiring two bombers at Ellsworth would equate to a loss of funding for 160 civilian and military workers at the base.

Another line in the Senate document calls for “a modernization plan for sustaining the remaining B-1 bomber aircraft through at least calendar year 2022.” That assurance seems to imply the fleet would be safe from further cuts for at least the next 10 years.

Here’s another detail:

The House version of the bill, approved May 26, stipulates that no B-1s can be retired until 2018 or until a new long-range bomber is ready, whichever comes first.

Given that no one knows much about the new bomber, the constituencies here are just obeying the old rule: A big, swing-wing bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.


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As I recall, this once pride of the US Air Force bomber fleet, was 99.9999 percent Un-stealthy.

I think everyone could detect and track thse zoomers incredibly easily. Not sure if somehow it was ever re-designed and improved to add a bit a stealthy-ness ? Is that possible ?

Actually, when comparing strategic bombers, the B-1B is likely the second most “stealthy” bomber in the world.

The B-1B is actually quite stealthy; it’s main problem is that with the basic ending of the nuclear mission, there’s very little it can do that a B-52 cannot given our current enemies.

“Reinvest” the “savings”? Where have we heard that before? Oh, Gates’ $100 million in “cuts” announced awhile back. This is errant nonsense.

If they REALLY want savings, they have to C-U-T F-O-R-C-E S-T-R-U-C-T-U-R-E.

Perhaps we need to take the BRAC process and apply it to a large swath of the defense budget? It seems the Congress is incapable of focusing on the larger picture of what’s good for the country and are so bogged down in their petty provincial squabbles that the only way forward is to give this debating society of lawyers and millionaires some kind of “deny-ability” and cover. Appoint a “non-partisan” commission to do the heavy lifting and sent it to Congress for an up or down vote.

Nothing else seems to work.

With the adoption of the Sniper XR Pod enabling precise bombing with the GBU-39, the B-1 went from being a cold war relic to directly support the boots on the ground where its developed a great reputation for being there quickly when needed.

One has to wonder what exactly the USAF is thinking; why take a functional and greatly updated B-1 out of service for a new hyper bomber that that doesn’t exist yet? Using the F-35 as a yard stick for possible development time, we might be talking about 20 years before the new bomber makes it to IOC.

The B-1 is actually quite stealthy compared to other bombers / heavy aircraft. In fact from the front with the wings swept it’s VERY low observable. The vertical stabilizer and the rear aren’t so much. It’s main defense is speed and low level flight and is actually quite difficult to track.

While I love this plane I tend to agree with the current strategy.. scaling back the number of tails would allow funds to be re-allocated across the rest of the fleet. Their getting older and the hours are really stacking up on them recently so they won’t be so cheap to operate forever. Hopefully it’ll be around until the next gen bomber comes online… we don’t really have another heavy hitter like it. The B-52 is not a survivable platform, the B-2 isn’t quite as flexible and neither can carry the payload a B-1 can.

This is a clearer cut and save than Gates… it costs X-million to keep each B1 operating each year… retire 6 and you have 6*X-million to spend. In this case they want to use that 6*X-million to upgrade the remaining aircraft and other bombers. The important question are 89 upgraded B1-B and better supported B2s and B52s equally or more effective than 95 standard B1-Bs and the current bomber fleet?

A lot of the B-1’s survivability comes out of the tactics, instead of the aircraft itself. Bone crews were trained for extremely low-altitude, high-speed tactics that minimized radar exposure. Don’t know if it’s still the same today, but I would think so.

The B1-B can carry a large payload, its fast, flies low, and can deliver the mail. Keep them in service, they can be a grunts best friend. Its a versatile airplane-and stealthy. The sniper pod puts bomb on target. Wats not to like??

So in other words they’re going to transition a couple of hangar queens to “permanent nonflying” status, and no longer have to maintain all the support staff and equipment (which only ever existed in theory and on paper, but budgets were still required to act like they were real.)

The Air Force has time and time again cut back programs for cost savings and to free up addittional resources for “future” programs only to essentialy fulfill the first half of that goal, the retiring of real airframes… When the USAF leadership can actually deliver on a few more of their promises, then i will support retiring real (as in they actually exist and can fly combat ops), useful (at any $ cost) aircraft for the fictional dream fleet the USAF has been promising for decades. I think the people in forums like this pay attention to the details and therefore see the theoretical utility of retiring some planes and then re-investing it to boost the remaining fleet. Problem is, it seems to seldomly work out the USAF leadership pitches it.

This “cut the B-1s” issue comes up every year. I say no. The B-1B has proven it’s worth on plenty of occasions and we ought to keep them in service until this next bomber comes online.

Anyone else hear Jimmy Carter is behind this? (And yes, I am kidding).

“Not sure if somehow it was ever re-designed and improved to add a bit a stealthy-ness ? Is that possible ? ”

Funny. You admit you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground yet you are right there blasting away with how unstealthy it is. How ’bout a nice cup of STFU and go research the topic?

How does this make more sense then phasing out six or even twelve B-52’s. The B-52 has given great service but it’s a plane conceived in the 40’s and built in the early 50’s. Their are few original parts remaining on most of these aircraft; why keep pouring resources into such a large number of the much older 52’s.

Keeping several antiquated B-52s in service (still using 8 1960s-tech engines) has to be more expensive than half a dozen B-1Bs.
And with their max operating speed and inflight refuel, B-1s can get anywhere faster than any B-52s.
Axe the old Boeing birds first, then worry about trimming B-1s when the NGBs are actually on the production floor, not just paper airplanes.

Congress will never approve further reducing the B-52H fleet, their nuclear mission is keeping them sacrosanct. A capability no B-1 has possessed since ’95.
I’m not disagreeing with you. The Air Force, not that long ago, wanted to reduce the B-52 fleet 56 or less, and Congress wasn’t having any of that. Reducing the fleet to 76 from 96 was a major victory for the Air Force.

How long and how much would it cost to change out the cruise missile and or iron bomb racks and re-equip for gravity nukes?
And thanks for hitting the silk to protect liberty.

as a former B-1 weapons crew member i loved the bird. id say to retire the BUF before the B-1. The payload is almost 2 times the payload of the B-52. As far as Ellsworth AFB it brings in too much money to the local economy to loose Aircraft, they only have the B-1’s there not anything else.

the air force just wants something new and shiny so that they can justify their pathetic existence. Separating the air forces from the Army was one of the stupidest things we ever did.

The air force doesn’t want to support the Army or the Marines on the ground, they just want to fly around in their hyper expensive jets and say “zoom zoom” and their ultra expensive big bombers and say “boom boom,” and when they land at their fancy bases they say “golf golf.”

You recall incorrectly. While not necessarily “stealthy” by today’s (VLO age) standards, having a bomber with a RCS on the order of an F-16 was HUGE back in the 1980’s & still significant today.

You are quite incorrect on all points.

how about this 70 cents out of every dollar the DoD recieves goes to private contractors. Why do we have so many contractors you may ask? It is because of cutting force structure way back in the 90’s and the land baron BRAC program. Cut the contractors re-invest in the troops themselves and youll see savings. Most of these contractors are the equivelent of unionized DMV workers. Little production, a sense of entitlement that the govt owes them a job.

The B1B is smaller then the B52 and can carry more bombs the the B52 and it’s faster and has a smaller RCS. If the have to get rid of a bomber. I think that it’s time for BUFF to hang up it’s wings…

the air force just wants something new and shiny (TRUE) so that they can justify their pathetic existence (TRUE-they are wimps). Separating the air forces from the Army was one of the stupidest things we ever did.(VERY TRUE)

The air force doesn’t want to support the Army or the Marines on the ground (VERY TRUE, they think the F-16 can replace the A-10), they just want to fly around in their hyper expensive jets (TRUE– F-22) and say “zoom zoom” and their ultra expensive big bombers (TRUE B-2) and say “boom boom,” and when they land at their fancy bases they say “golf golf.” (VERY TRUE-They do have the best golf courses and the nicest bases)
just messing with ya MAN ;-D

The antiquated idea is that we even cling to the notion of gravity-dropping a nuke directly on a city/target by a manned aircraft.
Obviously some folks have learned nothing: THAT is why a nation even develops cruise missiles, to deliver payloads to a target without risk to human crews.
We need to get away from the nostalgic glamor of those WW2 times when clouds of bombers covered our enemies’ countries.

People can’t tell me we can’t kit out B-1Bs with long range nuke-tip cruise missiles.
We want penetrating bombers dropping gravity bombs?
Isn’t that what the B-2s are for (all, what, 20 of them?) ?

Why again do we even consider dropping free fall nukes on an adversary with any measure of air defense assets from B-52s possessing an RCS big as the proverbial barn?

Some of those hokey fanboy websites slamming the F-35 in the face of the latest Russian/chinese SAM types, yet USAF brass has the mentality to send B-52s in instead?
Who are the idiots (Congress!) smoking what again?

So the B-1 exists to support the local economy? Where’s the support for my local economy?

What Gates is doing is creating a slush fund to be invested in the next generation bomber, they have no idea what they are doing. The B1-B is without question the best support bomber we have for speed and accuracy in support of the man on the ground. The F-35 is another platform fighting for it’s life with these projected cuts; the current administration is famous for tying our hands behind our back while entering into a fight. The retiring of an aircraft like the B1-B before we have the promised replacement is in hand is irresponsible. The design and development can take decades to develop and then the testing could be considerable unless they are like the F-35, few are. The bird in the hand is without question the smart way to go.

The B-52 is the greatest bomber ever built and that still exists. Yes, the B-1 can carry more but the B-52 can go where most bombers can’t go, altitude wise and doesn’t have to be close to it’s target to inflict serious damage. Leave the BUF alone and also leave the B-1 alone. As for the Air Force, we are just as relevant as the other services. No war is won without air combat and that’s why the Air Force is in existence my fellow service members. I always find it interesting how other members of our armed forces don’t hesitate to criticize the Air Force, yet they can’t deploy without our resources. Remember, we carry your troops and equipment to the battle so that you all can win the war. So next time please give thanks to the Air Force.

We had trouble getting the B-1 Bomber made in the first place! Now with this country of ours have money problems the B-1 in trouble again. What it was build for in the Cold War is still good for today. I was a Grunt when it was first getting build, the B2 was still going through the idea for it.
We have hurt this country with all the moves that we as a country were try to not do.

I would rather have them cut a couple B-52’s than B1-B’s. The older plane needs air superioroty to operate, but the range is incrdeble. Keep upgrading both, we are going to need them.

Ands you say “sniff sniff”.

What? You are responding to your own comment? LOL

Do you know what you are talking about? The AF mission is different from the Army mission. The AF supports both the USA and USMC missions. Respectfully, if you would have served in the USAF you would have a much better understanding of the USAF mission. Did the USAF turn you down????

A 26 year USAF veteran

Clinton tried this trick with do more with less and it didnt work then either and we had to work more with less is all and do it in 14 or 15 hours instead of 7 or 8

If Obama has his way, all of the heavy bombers will go the way of the Space Shuttle.

It’s not the current enemies we must plan for. It’s the enemies 10, 20, and 30 years ahead of us that we need to be planning for. That’s one of the reason’s killing the F-22 was such a blunder, and one of the reasons the current legacy fleet (which is already 30–40 years old for the most part) can’t be relied on indefinitely.

How much do they pay contractors in combat zones? IIRC 100k plus every year (and most of that non-taxed too). Doesn’t sound like they saved all that much by cutting force structure, does it?

I don’t know if I agree with your characterization of them as DMV workers, but it does seem that they cost a heck of a lot more money than the soldiers they replaced.

Raptor, I think you are absolutely correct in your assessment. I remember the Clinton military well, and I still hate him for it.

Rick, just about everything you posted is so absurdly ridiculous that it boggles the mind. Seriously.

Yup. He said ‘Don’t worry, it’s okay, we’ll replace the shuttle with the Orion’. Then as soon as funding for the shuttle was cut, he announced the killing of the Orion program too.

I would expect the same with regard to the next generation bomber. Shortly after they kill the B-1, they will kill it’s replacement. Kind of like killing the SLAMRAAM program, then waiting a whole 3 weeks to announce they were killing the MEADS system too.

Kind of like Clinton killed the 82nd Airborne’s fleet of M-551 Sheridan’s, and then a few months later killed the M-8 AGS that was supposed to replace the Sheridan.

He will cut because something new is already “cooking” and 3 bombers are not necessary! … we’ll only see it when too much buzz has passed over the bridge.

…just one note … all weapons systems leave some aficionados pissed when those systems are retired.… get over it.… if there are no cuts now, right now!!… to straight out the economy now … or in 10–20 years the cuts will be like in pre-collapsed soviet union … you cannot race with China if you are not “economically” fit.

Get a life if it wasn’t for the U.S.A.F the ARMY would be clueless and I will give the MARINES all the credit they do a lot with what they got. So get off the Air Force/Army bandwagon. Were here too stay.

What we would like to know, what country will receive the benefits? It seems that the Air Force and McCain does not want America to build their own military equipment and Aircraft! The war that was started by lies and deception needs to be stopped, it broke Russia and now it is destroying America! Who is getting rich from the war , out sourcing and creating jobs for foreign countries.We give China Foreign Aid, they own America and we give them aid!

I guess no body caught on. The need to retire any aircraft becomes a job security function for Davis Monthan AFB. The official bone yard.I wonder if this reduction in fleet is something Obama will take credit for (I created more jobs).

The B-1 was a lemon from day one. It never saw a single second of combat and it should have been scrapped a long time ago. In view of all of the budget battles in Washington, DC, our hypocritical Congress just don’t get it!

The problem is one of technology growth. By the time we get a new one designed it is obsolete based on available technology. The good news is no body can catch up with our technology even on our older stuff.
But we to have to give our guys the best and most advanced. Lets scrap the old junk and give our war-fighters the best and most advanced. Lets keep our guys alive. Scrap the old junk and get our guys the good stuff. To do anything else is murder.

The one big answer as to why the BUF is still in service, is that it has a better loiter time, and fuel efficiency for circling over our enemies and dropping JDAMS on caveman’s head. If you ask me, it would make better sense to simply outfit a Boeing 727 to do the same thing and benefit from the fuel use advantage that two modern fan-jets bring to the table.

The B-52 fleet have be retrofitted with newer turbo bypass engines, but they are no where near as efficient.

World War 3 never happened, but the Bone has proven itself to be one of the most capable and useful aircraft we have in our inventory in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Except for the fact that contractors aren’t guaranteed healthcare for life if injured in a warzone, arent privy to Servicemember Group Life Insurance (SGLI), and all those other programs military members are provided through their service. So in the short haul they are cheaper … as military members cost more over their tenure and retirement and unfortunately in death as well.

You have a point there, but how many of the contractors are killed/injured/maimed etc, and how many of the soldiers who were replaced by the contractors would have gone the full 20 years and retired and received all of those benefits?

66 in the active inventory.

Josh, three different processes.
1. Reducing tails x 6
2. Savings (always less than projected for reasons good and bad)
3. ‘Re-allocation’ of the savings ($)

There is absolutely ZERO chance ALL/most of this ‘savings’ will go toward the B-1.
Sad but true.

From a cost perspective I’m not concerned with the contractors who have been injured or whatnot. They are paid for the risk and aren’t tied to any Federal statute that provides them healthcare outside of the warzone (i.e. the remainder of their lifecycle). I’ve served 14yrs and am electing to hang up my hat in a few months. However, I am also going to require lifetime medical for injuries sustained in Iraq… like many other non retiring servicemembers. With the rise in healthcare I can only imagine what my injuries will cost taxpayers in the years to come. Nevermind the monthly disability payments. Either way we are spread way thin and the do more with less culture has to get the soldier to the fight. Therefore, we have to find some way of filling the combat service support roles and such to those not in uniform. There is no way we can maintain or suceed today in a boots on the ground role without the use of contractors.

Not exactly. Engineers were being sent to the B2 program from various other programs, including B1-A development programs long before anything other than a B1 prototype or two existed. Evidently, the handwriting was already on the wall. The B1-B was also a more “stealthy” plane than the A.
“B2 was still going through the idea for it”

Read more: http://​www​.dodbuzz​.com/​2​0​1​1​/​0​7​/​0​5​/​a​-​b​a​t​t​l​e​-​f​o​r​-th

There is a problem if we had only one bomber like some here seem to want. When the bombers are grounded due to an accident or mishap you no longer have that capicity. Kind of like having all your eggs in one basket.

“we to have to give our guys the best and most advanced”. Just wanted to point out your flawed thinking, which is divorced from the reality that system requirements include operational suitability and affordability. This kind of thinking leads us to systems which require decades in development, fielding and operational capability delays, cost overruns, a poorly recapitalized force structure, and weaker national defense. Care to reconsider your position?

another $99.5M to Boeing to upgrade the BOne fleet thru 2019 suggests there really aren’t any etched-in-stone Pentagon– or Congressional plans to start axing Lancer numbers, but rather,
seems they’re intent on keeping them effective for some time yet.

perhaps you should do some actual research before commenting on a topic you obviously know so little about. The B-1B has proven itself time and time again in the current conflicts in the Middle East and is still flying successful missions today. I’d hardly call that a lemon. Of course, after being started-stopped-restarted, there were indeed initial hiccups in its early life; those worries seem to have been fixed with several upgrades. More maneuverability; bigger payload; more diverse payload; more fuel efficiency; greater range and speed; more advanced avionics than the B-52. I’ll take THAT lemon to war any day.

We keep cutting our current assets to spend that money on future assets.…

We closed down the F-117’s to spend that savings on the F-22. We closed down the F-22 to spend that money on the F-35. Now, with cost overrun$$$ mounting on the F-35, how long before it’ll be clipped or closed down and hope invested in the next great invisible hope?

B-52s and B-1s work. They’re old but smart people keep reinventing them in order to find new ways to extract value from them. I realize they can’t do everything we want a bomber to do (penetrating cutting-edge IADS for one) but until we have a lot of reliable somethings that can replace them, why don’t we do something completely novel.…and keep them flying???


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