B-1 celebrates 25 years of airpower

  • Published
  • By Howard Hazell
  • 555th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron
October is a special month for a special combat aircraft.

The United States Air Force B-1B Lancer first flew on October 18, 1984. Though that aircraft, tail number 82-0001, is no longer in the active inventory, it was the leading edge for a fleet that numbered 100 B-1Bs when the last was delivered in 1988. The 25th anniversary of this flight is a highlight within the B-1 community this month and was a major topic during the regular Fall Program Management Review recently held at Boeing's Long Beach, Calif., facility.

Col. Charles Sherwin, the B-1 System Program Manager at Tinker, made the 25th anniversary the core of his presentations before the B-1 System Program Office at his first Commander's Call and the Fall Program Management Review. He emphasized the evolution, maturation and future of the B-1 as stepping stones to further capability enhancements and aircraft availability and affordability improvements.

The B-1 is an evolutionary platform. Originally designed to fulfill the role of a penetrating nuclear bomber for the Strategic Air Command, the B-1 evolved into a highly capable conventional weapons platform. The Conventional Munitions Upgrade Program combined the efforts of the B-1 System Program Office with specialists at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and Tinker; requirements, operations and logistics specialists within Air Combat Command and expertise from Boeing and other contractors to create a capability that is now prized by combatant commanders.

The B-1 continues to mature. In December 1998, the B-1 saw its first combat during Operation Desert Fox over Iraq. The following spring, from April through June 1999, the B-1 was again in action during Operation Allied Force flying missions in support of NATO forces to liberate Kosovo. Both operations involved the delivery of general purpose bombs.

It was during Operation Enduring Freedom that the B-1 transitioned from general purpose bombs to become the premier platform for precision guided munitions. Initially, the B-1 carried 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions during both Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom missions. Now B-1 missions are carrying both 2,000-pound and 500-pound JDAMs.

The effectiveness of the B-1 and JDAM combination allows support of surgical strikes on high value targets as well as support to troops in contact with enemy forces. These munitions, combined with continuously computed impact point capability, make the B-1 extremely lethal in the close air support role. Such is the impact of the B-1 on the battlefield that ground forces can also call for a non-lethal "show-of-force" using the B-1 in a low-level, high-speed pass that can pin down opposing forces or flush them out of hiding.

There is even more in store for the B-1 over the next 25 years. The aircraft is an agile test bed with many new great capabilities. Current sensors coupled with state of the art data links will make the B-1 part of the global network with a developing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance role. Future combat engagements may employ the precision of a directed energy weapon that limits collateral damage while destroying the desired target. The capability and flexibility of the B-1 are valuable, even critical assets to America's warfighters. The strategic sight picture of the secretary of the Air Force is embedded in the processes of the B-1 System Program Office with emphasis on world-class acquisition, systems engineering and life-cycle logistics. The System Program Office at Tinker recognizes the combined talents, expertise and efforts of the B-1 operators of Air Combat Command, the personnel within Air Force Materiel Command and supporting contractors for taking the B-1B from its first flight 25 years ago to become a prized warrior in America's combat arsenal.