Air Force Begins Massive B-1B Overhaul

B-1The Air Force is in the early phases of a multi-year technological overhaul and upgrade of its B1-B Lancer long-range bomber fleet which will outfit all 62 aircraft with a wide-ranging suite of new displays, computer technology and avionics, service officials said.

Called Integrated Battle Station, or IBS, the upgrades consist of three separate efforts to install new displays, integrated data links and diagnostic technologies. The service began fielding the first production IBS aircraft in November of last year and plans to finish the entire fleet by 2019.

“This modernization is the most significant upgrade to the B-1 since initial production,” said Maj. Mick Szczukowski, program element monitor, Air Force acquisition. “Concurrent procurement and installation of all three upgrades reduces installation costs, reduces aircraft downtime, and keeps fielded aircraft configurations to a minimum for aircrew training, maintenance, and operational deployment efficiencies.”

The upgrades are intended to preserve the service-life of the 1980s-built B-1 aircraft through 2040, he added.

After being built in the 1980s, the B1-B Lancer has dropped weapons in a wide range of conflicts. After first serving in Operation Desert Fox over Iraq in 1998, the aircraft has performed missions in Operation Allied Force over Kosovo, served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and flown missions over Libya in 2011.

During the first six months of Operation Enduring Freedom, eight B-1s dropped nearly 40-percent of the total tonnage delivered by coalition air forces, Air Force officials said. This included roughly 3,900 guided bombs or Joint Direct Attack Munitions, called JDAMs.

The aircraft is 34-feet tall, 146-feet long and has a wingspan of 137 feet. The B-1 weighs roughly 196,000 pounds and can hit speeds greater than 900 mph. Its four General Electric turbofan engines each generate 30,000 pounds of thrust, Air Force officials said.

One analyst said the B-1 has considerably evolved its mission scope since its inception in the 1980s.

“This was originally a nuclear-bomber plane and they have had to do a lot to make it capable as a conventional plane. It was absent from the first Gulf War and then became more adaptive and multi-role,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice-president of analysis at the Teal Group, a Va.-based consultancy.

A key element of the upgrades are what the Air Force calls vertical situation display upgrade or VDSU, an effort to replace existing flight instruments with 8-by-6-inch multifunction color displays at each pilot station, Szczukowski added.

In addition, the VDSU adds a second display at each pilot station to better enable pilots to avoid threats and strike emerging targets while functioning as a back-up display, he said.

The second piece of the upgrade includes fully integrated data link, or FIDL. FIDL provides ethernet to transmit flight and weapon data among aircrew stations and to other off-board receivers via line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight networks, Szczukowski said.

“It adds the capability to share information with command-and-control organizations and other air, land, and sea assets in the battle space,” he said.

The IBS technologies are developed by Boeing and handed over to the Air Force for installation on the airframes at a Boeing facility called the Oklahoma City Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Technology Center.

“Before there was a monochrome monitor and there was also an old analogue tape which monitored airspeed and vertical velocity. Now there are two advanced liquid crystal displays,” said Dan Ruder, B-1 advanced program, Boeing. “This provides new primary flight displays in color. “

FIDL also replaces monochromatic displays at the rear cockpit crew stations with color multifunctional displays, a streamlining move which will help the crew with weapons assignment and delivery. In addition, this will allow the crew to perform rapid airborne retargeting missions using machine-to-machine data transfers, he added.

FIDL also inculdes a beyond-line-of-sight data link integrating with the B-1 avionics system. This enables a ground commander to task a B-1 well outside of the battlespace, Air Force officials said. At the same time, command and control far removed from the battlespace can task or re-task a B-1 that is en-route or already in the battlespace.

The third piece of the IBS upgrade is the addition of memory capacity to the diagnostics data base, Szczukowski explained.

The Air Force lists the price of a B1-B Lancer at $283.1 million in 1998 dollars, and service officials say the fleet-wide IBS upgrades will cost $918 million for procurement and installation and $391 million for research and engineering.

In addition to IBS, the Air Force is also pursuing a handful of additional upgrades to the B-1 bomber to include improvements to its navigation system. Beginning last year, the Air Force began fielding a program called inertial navigation system replacement, or INSR, which improves navigation by replacing two spinning mass gyroscopic inertial navigation system with ring laser gyroscopic systems and a new GPS antenna, Szczukowski added.

The INSR program will cost $88 million in research and $93 million in procurement and installation dollars, he said.

The Air Force has also begun fielding new radar technology for the B-1, replacing the APQ-164 radar and conducting the first major radar modification for the B-1 in 25 years. The effort, which began fielding in 2012, is slated to cost $373 million.

The B-1 is also slated to receive a new attitude indicator, an instrument which provides angle of the aircraft, airspeed and altitude information to the crew. The new system, to field by 2015, will replace three existing instruments with a single integrated instrument, service officials said.

Aboulafia said the B-1 upgrades represent an Air Force effort to expand the mission possibilities for the aircraft.

“There’s so much that needs to be done. It was designed with a long-range capability and supersonic air speed. The B-1 is best described as a work in progress. It has needed to become a multi-role bomber capable of surviving in more advanced threat environments,” he said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Andy

    Hope they will upgrade to carry 20 or more Tomahaws misslies or long range air to air missiles…

    • Hialpha

      Won’t ever carry air to air missiles, I think; though the B-1 is fast, it makes too good of a target in an air-to-air engagement.

    • Tomahawks are for the Navy. They carry ALCMs, 12 external, 8 internal.

      • Dave Kugler

        ALCM was eliminated from the B-1 by START many years ago. Original moveable bulkhead to accommodate ALCM was welded in place and the external hard points were removed to demonstrate treaty compliance. B-1 is a conventional only platform despite its roots.

    • Doug

      Why not lease some to the RAF

  • Ben

    Only old geezers on the verge of retirement (maybe he needs an upgrade too?) refer to LCDs as “advanced liquid crystal displays” in a sentence, lol.

    Good to see the bones getting some more life, though.

  • Daren

    It would be nice to see the engines replaced with F-22 engines. Talked with a B-1 pilot and that was being considered before all the goverment cuts.

    • yeah the regional bomber concept was very promising. And would have added a wonderfully useful capability to the arsenal for the modern battlefield. And the addition of the advanced air to air capability would have been great in a conventional fight as well. Nothing an enemy air force could do against a wing of F22s and AWACS targeting for a couple missile trucks. Add Tomahawks and you can provide standoff strategic targeting in less than 12 hours to anywhere in the world. To bad people couldn’t see the value in that.

    • BobSacamano

      Yes, there is/was just that being proposed, a B-1R:

    • Marc Pinke

      Agreed. The B-1’s Russian counterpart Tupolev Tu-160 has hit Mach 2.05 for decades which is twice as fast so that would definitely be a great suggestion.

    • Jon Coté

      When were you a kid? Boeing has been in the bomber business since the 1930’s

  • Lance

    I thought the USAF was going to retire the B-1 to save the worthless JSF????? Wonder what changed there minds????? Doesn’t matter the B-52 will outlive the B-1 over time anyway.

    • Tiger

      1. We have retired about 40 of the 100 built. The ability to haul payload & do it with precision is what has changed. That & the loss of it’s nuclear mission. I’ll take the Lancer over the 52 any day.

    • SuperGuest

      Not true. Both the B52 and B1 will be retired around the same time (2040ish). I don’t know what “point” you were trying to make there….

    • Jpwdec

      No chance lance , B1 is the new B52

      • BmbrDefense

        No offense, but the B1 being the new B52 is simply wrong. It’s simply an incorrect statement that appears quite often in the comments of these articles. The B-1 is a great plane, it’s supersonic, and it did great work in the desert. The fact of the matter is that supersonic capabilities do nothing against modern ground threats, the Bone has an abysmal mission capability rate due to it having parts made in every state and many being different for each plane, it doesn’t have long legs that you’d want in a modern strategic bomber, and it is a money drain. But it did do well, despite those facts, recently in the desert in CAS and DA.

        The B-52 on the other hand carries a wider array of standoff weapons, has longer legs, flies deterrence through nuclear capabilities, drops the same types of precision weapons, and typically fairs quite well defensively against threats the B-1 can’t go near. Its mission capability rate is excellent comparatively, due to there being numerous interchangeable parts and maintainers that have worked them for years like it was a muscle car they used as a daily driver.

        And for the win, what plane does the world respect? Who do we send as a black-smoke pouring sign of deterrence when someone acts up? The Buff. Ask Kim Jung and his buddies in China.

        Peace the old fashioned way.

        • b1wso

          Alright bmbrdefense, I am actually amused about how wrong you are about the B-1. Let me begin.

          Supersonic plays a huge role in ground threats because the more speed you have in maneuvering, the better you will be at kinematically defeating a missile. The Buff does not have that.

          All the parts are the same and very easily transferable between aircraft so I don’t know what you were talking about.

          The B-1 holds the records for longest legs.

          Though no longer nuke capable, it wouldn’t take long to change that.

          Do well is cas? The B-1 is the premiere CAS platform due to bomb load, loiter time, and precision.

          The B-1 carries standoff weapons. Research JASSM.

          The BUFF does not deploy the GBU-54, the laser guided munitions. However the b-1 does. Recall the B-1 has the sniper pod and the buff does not.

          Haha, defensive systems of the BUFF are nothing compared to the B-1. The Buff doesn’t even compare. And to top it off, the B-1 can go low and fast better than any aircraft to avoid those threats. And I do mean LOW.

          The B-1 is the real fear. They are the aircraft that get requested for a show of force. The B-1 is the better replacement of the B-52, period. How would I know? cause I fly in one of them.

          • JTAC2454

            Premier Cas platform!! Hahaha! you do well by making noise until the fighters get to us. Not even going to go any farther.

  • jamesb

    Hire Dale Brown as the Project manager…..

    • Nolen McMorris

      That has probably already been done.. I remember a General saying, about ten years ago, that what we see was being done 20 years ago.

      • blight_

        More like “what you see now took twenty years from prototype to mass production”.

  • mpower6428

    Just one simple but, serious question…. couldn’t a modified 737 have done the same thing for the past 20 years…? and seeing as how the HI – LO – LO strike mission into the soviet motherland is no longer realistic… why shouldn’t we use some sort of modified commercial bomb truck to deliver PGM’s…?

    having said that, I hope they don’t scrap them. Airshows are always WAAAY better with B-1’s

    • 009

      Would’nt wanna accidentally shoot down commercial airliner would we, common sense tells you arming 737’s becomes fair play to shoot down through the eyes of the enemy.

    • Hialpha

      Well, MPOWER, somebody was listening, because a highly modified 737 is the base airframe for the new P-8. Anyways, the B-1 has a HUGE payload, RCS reduction, very long range/on station time, and is fast and loud. The importance of it’s on station time and it’s speed and “presence” is very important in CAS missions with show of presence and show of force tactics.

      A Boeing 737 can’t quite match it in those respects. Besides, they B-1 is already bought and paid for, and the overall cost of upgrading it is relatively small compared to design/acquisition/tactics/training/maintenance of an entirely new platform.

    • Tiger

      See the P-8 Poseidon…

    • mpgunner

      Love the idea. Even better to put a “PAN AM” logo on it. What a great disguise…

      • 009

        Yah, and you in it…lol

    • Willi

      A biplane could have done the same job moron

    • Commercial bomb trucks wouldn’t survive.

    • Wayne

      World War 1… Germany and Britain dragged the US to war with Britain flying US flags on their transport ships and would sink German subs because of a neutrality agreement between US and Germany. Germany warned US citizens about planned attack on passenger boat going to Britain but barely anyone listened. Boat got sunk, Wilson went to war in second term.

      History has been repeating itself all across the board.

      • jacob

        this is going to happen again,this is just like arming an merchant ship ad trying to fire on Iran or somewhere in the middle east. Also,the B-1 is the only two engined bomber in service,it could not get even Radar systems in the center of fucking Chad! (which is saying something)

        • Laconic

          Sorry, Jacob: the B1 has four engines; 2 per conformal pod
          under each wing. If I am not mistaken they are GE F100EFF.

  • I would like to see a directed energy system suite on one or more of these aircraft. They have the room and the lift capability to install that system displayed recently on a frigate.

    Would a revolving launcher for AIM 120D’s be too much to ask for? In case our forces are swarmed by high volume, low tech fighters or drones – flying aresenal can be used to supplement the limited on-board ordinance carried by our Raptors.

  • William_C1

    Are they ever going to upgrade the defensive ECM suite as planned in the past but was eventually delayed or cancelled on at least one occasion?

  • hank

    Is ironic that the planes most useful in Iraq and Afgan like the B-1, B-52, A-10s, ect were all developed in the 70s and the B-52 in the 50s. Not too mention the U-2.
    Now we only produce products like the F-22, F-35 that aren’t useful in real world senarios but look nice at air shows.

    • Guest

      Not really. Aside from the F-22, and until the F35s enter service the only fighters and bombers we have are basically the ones developed in the 70s and 80s, so those are the ones that saw service during those wars.

    • jamesb

      It ain’t ironic….

      Old stuff IS better the NEWS stuff they have today….

      • oblatt2

        Got to love the excuses too. Its like the worst team in the national football league claiming that they are saving their best players for the Superbowl

    • F-23 won the fly off. IT was politics. Who cares, they’re a cash hog for the shareholders.

  • hibeam

    .You know the best thing about the B-1B? There is no VTOL Marines version.

  • JH

    Just watched B-1B: Doomsday Machine on youtube last week. They mention that it could have been used in Desert Storm, but wasnt, for some reason I cant remember. Fyi its a 2 parter.

    • Politics. We were flight testing conventional weapons on it for years. SAC was lying about it being nuclear capable and needed for the SIOP so they sent B-52s in. It was a WH pentagon hack decision.

    • The B1 was grounded during Desert Storm due to engine fires. I know that because I worked on t hem. Problem was fixed and we flew the next time we were needed. It happens…to all the planes.

    • chris

      During Desert Storm all B1Bs were fitted and designed for nuclear war and only nuclear war.

      • PMELDick

        Those that think they know are annoying to those of us that do. Can you say “CMUP”? We had the TCTO in work and turned out a lot of jets. Fan ring on F101 kept us out of SOME of that fight. Don’t be fooled. The ‘Bone’ dropped more tonnage than all others combined.

    • Guy

      The Air Force used B-52Gs that were in the process of being retired to the boneyard to fight Desert Storm. The retirement decision was due to nuclear arms reduction agreements and to save money in a period of declining defense budgets. The newest B-52s, the H model, and B-1s were held back as part of the SIOP. We ran out of places to bed down the big bombers and had more than enough Gs to support Desert Storm. The Gs served well and headed off to the boneyard pretty much as soon as the war ended.

    • Kent

      It had an engine problem (throwing fan blades) which grounded it during Desert Storm. In the very first B-1B crash during a low-level terrain following (TF) training mission over La Junta, CO , the SAC crash investigation board concluded that it was ingestion of Canadian geese (three crew members of the six on board were killed, the two in the aisle, and the IP in the copilot seat: the ACES II ejection seat failed). In a later incident, where one of the engines fell off (the two large bolts that held the engine in the cowl had been severed), the AF concluded that fan blades came loose and severed those bolts. This is what grounded the fleet during Desert Storm.

  • Nadnerbus

    As far as acronyms go, they could have picked a better one than IBS. Just, uh, Google it.

    • Tinto

      Maybe that’s what they mean about the project.

  • Guest

    Good to hear. I had wondered why the B1 hadn’t got a modern glass cockpit and some computer upgrades yet. Now if only they’d pursue that B1R proposal from some years back….unlikely but it would be cool nevertheless

  • Hialpha

    I’ve read more than few comments the Raptor using it’s radar for offboard support of B-1 AMRAAM shots. I can’t be the only one around here to understands why that’s a stupid idea, right?

    //Chucking spears as able.

  • Richard Morrison

    The B-1 was only designed to be nuclear 24 hr delivery device… adapted to be conventional dynamic. The 737 is actually used by the USN P-8 Poseidon and is to replace the aging P-3 Orions.. so yeah it could work, but the B-1 as a bomber with a speed of over 1200 miles an hr and flies low(real low) and agile is the best weapons system delivery vehicle around… the 737 only flies at 350-450 MAXIMUM..

    • FormerDirtDart

      Not sure what air force your ‘B-1s” fly for, but the US Air Forces B-1Bs top out at 830 mph at high altitude, and max out at 700 mph when down in the weeds chasing chickens

    • Carlton

      The 737 can almost reach MACH, around 700 mph. The P-8 may have restrictions due to all the junk hanging off it.

    • .85 Mach. B-1A went 1.2 M and a bit higher if you wanted to burn gas. you don’t need the speed, you want stealth. Which is why B-1B has nacelles that hide engine fans. Thing is, you gonna need range nuking Mother Russia, not a lot of tankers going to survive in that environment. That’s why B-52 was a standoff with ALCMs, SRAMs, and ACMs. SRAM and ACM are gone. Ditto nuclear ALCMs.

  • madskilz48

    I am more then willing to pay $1.5 billion or so to upgrade a plane for the next 25 years. It is a lot cheaper then doing the F-35 program that I am sure will be over $500 billion for purchases and another $2 trillion for maintenance. Also agree with the speed of 900 mph over the 500 maybe from a 737.

  • Stan

    IBS is a very unfortunate acronym.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Hialpha, why not a bigger missile – specifically the forthcoming SM-6 edition of the Standard? If a fired missile can be handed off from one vessel to another via CEC, why not let a B-1B and a much bigger missile, with its’ longer range?

    I’m assuming that your complaint to using the AIM-120 is that it brings the B-1B platform too close to enemy fighters. Do I misunderstand you?

    I’m also mildly surprised by the lack of official interest in an upgraded ECM system (one that works) for the B-1B, but the AF is deeply committed to all-stealth, all the time, and looking at a new strategic bomber, so ECM for the B-1B is too far down the priority list to matter.

    • Air to Air on a bomber is an idea that keeps cropping up and getting canned. B-1 can get into the dirt hide from a fighter before the fighter can get it. And fighters run out of gas. Happens a lot in training.

    • Hialpha

      Hey sorry for the long wait — if anybody is still reading this…

      Brian, I confess ignorance on the SM-6 other than the basics, but yes my problem with a missile truck B-1 is that it’s a huge asset that would get in way too close to a fight and even though it can turn and run, it can’t turn and fight if it needs too, amung other reasons.

      In an all out war, any asset would be useful and the B-1 has some fighter-like capabilities. But it’s not a fighter and it’s long term effectiveness as such would depend upon missiles that do the job better than pretty much anything out there.

      Don’t know about your ECM comment, seems to me that should be part of any modernization effort.


      Okay, thanks!

  • jsallison

    I’d be more impressed if they’d hang 4 HiBypass Turbofans under the BUFFs.

    • Best thing the AF did was re engine the KC-135s. No idea why they didn’t do that for the B-52, though they were getting rid of the vacuum tubes on it in the 80s. Real big deal to figure out. Though vacuum tubes were great for EMP protection. They were also hanging a lot of other stuff on it. from ALCMs to ACMs. to Tacit Rainbow. Tacit Rainbow was a boondoggle in the billions. Great idea, just never worked as advertised.

  • Critical Mass

    IIRC the ECM system began life with over 100 LRU’s which is a serious nightmare to begin with. We may learn someday that the instability in what remained of the “Soviet” military and political system was the reason for stopping the Gulf War action at 100 hours and perhaps also for not having B1’s in the air headed East. If I had been an ambitious Russian general I might have used that as an excuse to have a little coup party “to preserve the Motherland in the face of imminent attack from the West”. Just sayin’.

  • oblatt2

    The air-force knows it will soon have to retire the B-1s so its the last chance to pump some cash to those contractors with a unneeded upgrade.

    • Guest

      (Citation needed)

    • It was designed 40 years ago, time for an upgrade. That’s not going to happen soon. B-1 was able to orbit on station, something A-10 and everything else couldn’t do. And with 80+ bombs with accuracy you can drop something to help some grunt needing air support all day and night. Happened a lot.

      Real bitch when you start a war with no fighters or CAS in range of the troops. Gotta think about that. Bases are life. We learned that in WWII.

      • Big-Dean

        Hey Frank, “loiter-ing” is fine for the “stan or Iraq where the bad guys don’t shot back or have the capability to shoot our birds our of the air. Rest assured, that will not be the tacit in future conflicts

    • dcp

      unneeded upgrade? are you aware the B1B uses LAPTOPS for most of its insumentation? how about you drive a car with NO bumper, and no windshield wipers DUMB*** !!

  • Only 62? I thought they had 98 or 99 B-1Bs left?

  • Dave Barnes

    What a waste of money.
    Take the money and buy some more A-10s.

  • Big-Dean

    it’ll be much easier for the backseaters to play Nintendo now with those nice big flat screens ;-P

  • Josh

    All the tech upgrades are cool but when the structure of the damn thing is falling apart it ain’t gonna last 20 plus more years…Heard

  • TonyC.

    Always liked the B1, looks like a fighter on steroids. The Air Force knows that the B-52 fleet has aged to the point of no return. The B1 will allow them to operate manned bombers for alot longer, although the drones ahve been effective recently. Too bad the A-10 will be sacrificed for Air Force modernization.


    Any plan to upgrade or overhaul the B-1B bomber fleet needs to include a scalable agile beam radar from the F-16 program and PW F119 engines from the F-22 Raptor as these are two components necessary to improve the overall performance of the aircraft.

  • Tallman

    This won’t be the first time you monday mkring quarterbacks have ben wrong about the future and what we need to do. last chance tp shuttle money top the contractor my butt!!!!

  • Dfens

    Is it just my eyes, or does it look like that B-1 in the picture is landing on an access ramp instead of the runway?

  • pat

    Long live the B -52 and God bless the D. May it rest in peace

  • Question: Last time I checked, there were a bunch of B-1’s in the boneyard (no pun intended) at Davis Monathon AFB near Tucson. Will these be pulled out of “mothballs” and refurbished/upgraded too? If not, why not?

  • TIM

    There probably are some b-1’s in the boneyard as long term storage for spare parts for the others. Remember they did that with a bunch of the B-52’s as well. Remember they aren’t building any moe of these airframes and if they need parts that aren’t readily available what are they gonna do? It’s also important that we remember that these airframes have very low hours of use relative to the age of the planes. This makes them a valuable commodity to modify and upgrade over time. We haven’t seen the end of this weapon system and everything that has been done to modernize the B-52 fleet of less than 100 planes can be done to the B-1’s as well. After all it still has an incredible payload capacity and has proven that it can be at least as flexible as the the big BUFF’s and at 900 miles an hour at extremely low level and in all weather as a penetrator. We haven’t had that since we lost the F-111’s and they didn’t have near the bomb capacity . . .

  • sirvando vargas

    B1 The “Bone” has turned out to be one the best Aircraft to have in the Arsenal. Thinking back when it was under developement, it almost got cancelled by Politicions who said it just just an expensive Turkey. Yet , with it’s terrain following Radar system at High speed ,it was an Aircraft to be feared by any adversary. It was’t called the DoomsDay machine for nothing. Glad its still going to be around for years to come.

    • tiger

      The Ugly duck has become a deadly & beautiful Swan.