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Constant deployments broke the Air Force's B-1 fleet. Now the service is facing a major bomber shortfall
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.
The Air Force's B-1B Lancer long-range bomber is supposed to be one of three critical strategic bombers in the Pentagon's inventory. At the moment, however, the Air Force's Lancer fleet is an embarrassing mess.
The U.S. Air Force overcommitted its B-1B Lancer bomber fleet in Middle East operations over the last decade, causing it to deteriorate more quickly than expected, according to the head of Air Force Global Strike Command.
The bombers were recently called back to the U.S. to receive more upgrades and maintenance to prepare for the next high-end fight.
A “crimped” part prevented an ejection seat from a stricken B-1B Lancer bomber from firing in May during an in-flight emergency, forcing the aircrew to land the bomber rather than abandon a stranded crew member, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters on Tuesday.
The Air Force intends to award medals to an aircrew for saving themselves and their B-1B Lancer bomber in a fiery emergency landing in May, recognizing their coolness under pressure during a "tense and highly critical situation" that was any commander's worst nightmare, service officials confirmed today.