Petraeus Gives Shout-Out to B-1B Lancer Fleet

Last week, we wrote that the Air Force Council, the blue suiters board of directors that advises the air chief, was considering deep cuts to force structure to meet aggressive savings targets laid out by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. One option they are reportedly considering is early retirement of all 66 B-1B Lancer bombers, last delivered in the late 1980s.

Yesterday, the Lancer fleet got a hearty shout-out from new installed Afghan commander Gen. David Petraeus. “It is a great platform,” he told senators at his confirmation hearing. “It carries a heck of a lot of bombs… and it has very good intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.”

It can loiter for long periods of time in a combat-air patrol, using its Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod which contains a laser designator, 3rd Gen. FLIR and digital cameras that function well both day and night to search out insurgent movements or IED emplacers. “It is almost like having another unmanned aerial vehicle in terms of full motion video and so forth,” he said.

“So it’s not just a case of a very, very capable bomber just boring holes in the sky waiting to open the bomb-bay doors, it is also the case of a platform that’s very capable even as it is just flying around in circles.”

So take heart Lancer pilots!

Of course Petraeus isn’t just randomly throwing out compliments to aging bombers, he was prompted by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.); the Lancer equipped 28th Bomb Wing operates out of Ellsworth Air Force Base in Thune’s state.

— Greg Grant

  • Good for the General to state the value of the platform.

    While the B-52 might be cheaper to operate, it has neither the ISR capabilities that Petraeus alluded to nor the latent ability to become a potent maritime strike bomber. Low radar cros-section B-1s roaming the Pacific with loads of Harpoons could make fast work of the Chinese Navy. Of course a NGB bomber would do better, but we can’t count on Congress to fund it.

  • Charley

    Once again, the AF thinking about itself / future technology, and devaluing their primary mission which is to support the Army, and to a lesser extent, the Navy. We should seriously consider abolishing the AF, and give its tactical mission to the Army, and strategic mission to the Navy.

    • JEFF

      I think its funny to point this out because in the new Marine operation concept, this notion was expressed. That the greatest weaknesses of all the services stem from the operational centricities of geographic domains, that the edges and boundaries of where two services converge repel redundancy in favor of exclusivity that keeps what is needed from a particular service. The author of the document expounds on why the Marines have been able to capitalize on the much vaguer non-domain centric mission by utilizing and combining different elements of air/sea/land war fare to create a more flexible armed service.

      The Air Force fights off the Army any time the Army tries to develop any sort of air support that it needs, while simultaneously taking the Air force units the Army most favors for support and retiring them. A-10 is the big example.

    • MCQknight

      Supporting the Army (i.e: close air support) has never been the Air Force’s primary mission. Only in the two current wars has that mission taken on a significantly larger chunk of Air Force responsibility. The Air Force historically has had two main combat missions. The first mission involves attacking and eliminating enemy supplies, men, and material behind enemy lines before they can reach the battlefield. The second mission involves attacking enemy strategic centers (major factories, powerplants, command and control, etc.).

      In today’s current wars, the insurgent enemy obviosly doesn’t have major concentrations of troops or strategically important structures, greatly lessening the visibility of the Air Force’s historic primary combat missions. However, you can still see examples of their traditional role being carried out. The killing of Abu Al-Zarqawi in Iraq, and the Air Force/CIA drone killings of Taliban leaders in Pakistan are classic examles of Air Force units attacking enemy command and control strategic centers.

    • Jack Carlson

      Good post, Charley. At least one person (now two) have a lick of sense in them. How much more is it to operate the B1 over the more common and extremely effective platforms like the -7 or King Air?

      No wonder why the country is broke. This is just stupid and definitely politically motivated.

  • brilliant

    Couldn’t the ISR pods on the the B-1B be attached to a B-52?

  • Maxtrue

    Gee…a layman like myself is vindicated. And Petraeus didn’t even mention the emerging roles for the B-1. Perhaps the B-1R is smart. Can someone tell me whether the B-1B can be modified into the B-1R, or does that require new production? Can the mainframe and wings take four F-110 engines?

    On another thread I ASKED IF the follower were true observations (mind you I am NO expert so forgive my laymanese. It is not my intention to inspire silly remarks from casual viewers).

    1. New hpersonics including those involving large bunker buster are too large for any near term drone or fighter air craft.

    2. New laser pods and their energy source and turret are too large for any near term drone or fighter air craft.

    3. Ballistic and space platforms for the above present treaty problems and the former less stealth than the B-1.

    4. Missile defense systems such as air to enemy warheads also may require air borne launch in quantity, and hence no near term drone or fighters to the rescue.

    5. Lack of basing and adequate re-fueling capability limit smaller air craft as above solutions.

    6. Some added stealth, engine replacement and avionics upgrades provide sufficient modernization for the B-1 to play a larger role.

    If the above make sense, why would the AF want to ditch his platform? It does lead to the question that with the AF less than thrilled with close ground support roles, cutting everything to make way for an F-35 that is inferior in important respects to the F-22 (which could be upgraded further), what are they thinking? And doesn’t Petraeus who has been given MORE leverage as Obama’s answer to McC run into Gates and company?

    Note the anti carrier missile test by China in the next day.

    Again, I’m sorry if my comments are silly and degrade the conversation here. I hope one of the functions of this blog is for citizens to be able to ASK questions ( not make foolish conjectures) when struggling with reported decisions using taxpayer money that seem counter-intuitive to what Blogs like this an others present as future threat and declining funds…..


    • Chops

      Re Maxtrue–It is not only the -right- but it is also the responsibility of our citizens to ask questions and be concerned about our militarys’ ability to defend out country.Ask the military personnell about the cuts of weapons systems that help them survive in combat and I would bet they would want to line up everyone that cuts said systems and shoot them.

    • greg

      Good idea, and you make a great point. I think it uses too much common sense though, so it would never happen.

      • Maxtrue

        A former West Point teacher I met on line named Tully once told me (to paraphrase) three things did in Custer: failure to anticipate an enemy’s advantage (arrows used as over the horizon weapons and repeating rifles which Custer had not -why”), lack of using available overwhelming force (Gatling guns Custer decided not to take into battle) and what made the first two mistakes possible, arrogance.

        I had always thought common sense was the scalpel to apply to these issues….your comment wasn’t too reassuring….

  • William C.

    Good to hear from Petraeus. At least he knows the value of the system unlike some congress critters and penny-pinchers who want to cut the thing.

  • Chops

    Wherever the next conflict is I hope our military has the equiptment and support to prosecute the conflict to a successful conclusion-but with eqpt. and battle systems cuts-who knows.

  • This is a simple niche to carve out;

    The B2s stay as they are – heavy stealth attack aircraft.

    B-1Bs keep their existing role as a fast, high-payload bomber platform, with secondary focuses on ISR and naval attack.

    B-52s get acknowledged as the massive flying targets they are, and pick up the co-primary mission of electronic warfare platform. It’s pretty sad that the USAF has to rely on the Navy and Marines for EW. Get some lightweight pods on them that can get a heavy strike package into a battlezone without tying up F-22s.

  • roland

    Don’t retire the B-1B yet. As there is Iran, N. Korea, China, and probably Russian too. we still needs these planes. We invested billions of dollars on these planes why retire it? These can still be usefull for future threats.
    Russians and other countrues have’nt retire thier 1943 bombers and yet we were retiring our 20th century defense lines. Don’t retire it yet.

  • roland

    Just upgrade it if needed. Its engines maybe needed some upgrading to meet the F-35 specifications and to bio-fuel adoptable. And some flares, missiles and upgrade to meet SCAD, SAMS threats on air collisions with all the F-35 capability and armed it w/ a single internally mounted General Electric M61A1 20mm rotary cannon with 480 rounds of ammunition for air to air combat capability

    • Riceball

      Some of your suggestions make sense, although I’d imagine that some of the suggestions you made are probably already incorporated into the B1s. However, the idea of mounting an M61 for air to air combat is a pretty ridiculous notion, the B1 is a bomber and is not meant to get into dogfights; if a B1 or any other heavy bomber tried to get into a dogfight with anything besides another bomber it’s going to die a quick death. Besides, an M61 has too short of a range for even simple self defense unless it’s mounted in the back of the plane with a CWIS type radar to try and shoot down incoming SAMs or air to air missiles, even then it’s doubtful as to how effective that would be.

  • Carl

    “shout-out” ??

    Is this some progressive socialite web page here ??

    Another step into the depths …

  • andouzy

    chinese is chasing away us from yeallow sea , remember the last incident in which a us geography ship was hurt by chinese navy!!! the us has lost it deterrent power face to chinese

  • Tyrone Jackson

    Claiming Gen. David Petraeus remarks about the B-1 was a “shout out” or positive endorsement is the ultimate in dishonesty. Gen. David Petraeus actually said that the B-1 was almost as good has having a UAV. “The B-1 is almost like having another unmanned aerial vehicle in terms of full motion video and so forth” is the actual quote. The bottom line is that UAV’s are replacing manned aircraft. Heaven forbid that the US stick with expensive manned aircraft and have to go up against, say, China fielding a lot of UAV’s. The very fact that UAV’s cost a few percent of the cost of manned aircraft means that manned aircraft, even if one believed they were more capable, will simply be over run by superior numbers of UAV’s.

  • Max

    Good. Get rid of the B-52’s instead of the B-1’s.

  • remdog

    only problem with the B-1 is that the airframe wasnt designed to fly more then around 12,000 hours. We just had our first one hit 10.000 flying hours not too long ago. This acft has turned into the weapon of choice for OEF/OIF and because of this, they are racking up more flying hours then ever thought of by rockwell when they designed it.

  • Mick

    “It is almost like having another unmanned aerial vehicle in terms of full motion video and so forth.”

    How can that in any way be construed as a compliment to the B-1?

  • Maxtrue

    I noted the recon roll the general mentioned and thought that odd a blimp would serve better. I also noted that Petraeus didn’t mention any other roll than that and bombing. Given no air opposition in Afghanistan, what is different that a B-52 dropping bombs? In this role as strikes against guerrilla groups, UAV do make more sense. Maybe as a Global Strike arm against hardened or defended targets…..or again carrying out missions involving a change of payload.

    Given remdog’s comment about air frame certification, no wonder these are “Hanger Queens”, so the whole thing seems to boil down to this: What will it cost and involve improving existing B-1s to become better products and fly longer than their remaining shelf time? Can they withstand more thrust, more use more roles? What would past and present cannibalization down to fifty or so do for this cause? Is limit production more than a pipe dream (modernization not re-production). If not, then isn’t it smart to admit their end and at least face the hole in our force these air craft might have played?

    Any thoughts?

  • Sasha

    All those who think this is a ringing endorsement of the B-1B might want to read the Register and reconsider:

  • Matt Musson

    The B1 is not a reliable aircraft. When you send over a wing of bombers you are lucky if two make it to the drop zone.

  • greg

    The general basically said that this bomber was a waste of money. Please try and report honestly in future.