With many defense experts concluding that the Air Force’s B-1 bomber fleet should be retired to save money (for a newer, better bomber, of course), the B-1’s backers aren’t giving up without a fight.
“Ten to 20 years from now, we are going to need a bomber force,” says Todd Harrison, a defense-budget expert at the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “How do you do that? Well, if you are going to need a new bomber program, you may have to give up some of your legacy bombers.”
Not so fast, say the Bone’s backers (don’t confuse “Bone,” as in “B-one,” the needle-nosed bomber’s unofficial nickname, with its official nickname of the Lancer…not to be confused with the British medical journal the Lancet). The Air Force recently used one of its $200 miilion B-1 bombers to take out a small, moving boat in the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s an age-old story: as a weapon begins to show its age, those whose careers are invested in it scurry to find new ways to justify its continued operation.
“Many of the dynamic targeting skills we’ve refined over the past decade on land are directly applicable in the maritime environment,” Captain Alicia Datzman, an Air Force weapons expert, says in a service news story. “This is the perfect opportunity to validate and refine these tactics.”
Adds Lieut. Colonel Alejandro Gomez, the special projects officer with the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron that carried out the test Sept. 4: “Future wars might not all be on land, some may include surface combat, so we are evaluating the way we employ the B-1 to aid in completing the mission.”
Many of the bombs dropped from the B-1 are guided to their targets by GPS, which isn’t much help when it comes to taking out moving targets, like motorboats. But a laser designator can follow a moving target and guide the bomb to it.
With terrorists — OK, “pirates” if you must — increasingly using small boats to seize commercial vessels in the Indian Ocean, and with the Pentagon’s pivot to the Pacific, best known for 64 million square miles of water, what better mission for an aging strategic bomber, than sending small boats to Davy Jones’ locker?
Of course, Navy and Marine aircraft, far more common in the Pacific, also carry the GBU-10 laser-guided bomb the B-1 used to blast the boat.
It’s a bit of a step down for a warplane — resurrected by Ronald Reagan, after Jimmy Carter killed it — built to make the Kremlin cower.