Defense Department officials may select a bomber already in the Air Force's inventory to become its munitions-packed "arsenal plane," Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said Tuesday.
Roper told reporters in Washington, D.C. that the service has a vision for its current bomber fleet, which constitutes turning the bomber force — the B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer or B-2 Spirit — into "something else" in the future.
On April 14, 2018, two B-1B Lancer bombers fired off payloads of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles against weapons storage plants in western Syria, part of a shock-and-awe response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his citizens that also included strikes from Navy destroyers and submarines.
In all, the two bombers fired 19 JASSMs, successfully eliminating their targets. But the moment would ultimately be one of the last — and certainly most publicized — strategic strikes for the aircraft before operations began to wind down for the entire fleet.
A few months after the Syria strike, Air Force Global Strike Command commander Gen. Tim Ray called the bombers back home. Ray had crunched the data, and determined the non-nuclear B-1 was pushing its capabilities limit. Between 2006 and 2016, the B-1 was the sole bomber tasked continuously in the Middle East. The assignment was spread over three Lancer squadrons that spent one year at home, then six month deployed — back and forth for a decade.
The constant deployments broke the B-1 fleet. It's no longer a question of if, but when the Air Force and Congress will send the aircraft to the Boneyard. But Air Force officials are still arguing the B-1 has value to offer, especially since it's all the service really has until newer bombers hit the flight line in the mid-2020s.
A B-1 Lancer made an emergency landing after experiencing an in-flight incident on June 1, less than one week before the Air Force ordered a stand-down of its entire fleet, a spokesman for Air Force Global Strike Command confirmed to Air Force Times on Monday.