In 2018, Boeing filed patents for a number of potential cannon mounting solutions for the supersonic heavy payload bomber, the B-1B Lancer, with the intent of creating a B-1B gunship similar in capability to the famed Spooky AC-130 and its most recent successor, the AC-130J Ghostrider. While the patents indicate Boeing’s interest in prolonging the life of the venerable Lancer, there’s been little progress toward pursuing this unusual design.
Recently, the U.S. Air Force announced plans to begin retiring its fleet of B-1Bs in favor of the forthcoming B-21 Raider, prompting us to ask ourselves: could we actually build a B-1B gunship to keep this legendary aircraft in service?
Could we really build a B-1B Gunship?
Boeing’s patents indicate a number of cannon-mounting methods and even types and sizes of weapons, giving this concept a broad utilitarian appeal. America currently relies on C-130-based gunships that, while able to deliver a massive amount of firepower to a target, max out at less than half the speed that would be achievable in a B-1B gunship. The Lancer’s heavy payload capabilities and large fuel stores would also allow it to both cover a great deal of ground in a hurry, but also loiter over a battlespace, delivering precision munitions and cannon fire managed by a modular weapon control system.
In theory, it all sounds well and good, but there are also a number of significant limitations. The B-1B Lancer’s swing-wing design does allow it to fly more manageable at lower speeds, but it would almost certainly struggle to fly as slowly as an AC-130J can while engaging targets below. Likewise, a B-1B gunship would be just as expensive to operate as it currently is as a bomber–making it a much more expensive solution to a problem one could argue the U.S. has already solved.
But that doesn’t mean we’ll never see this concept, or even these patents, leveraged in some way. If you’d like to learn more about the concept of turning a B-1B into a gunship, you can read our full breakdown (that the video above is based on) here.
The B1 is the poster child of military waste, a supersonic bomber which was obsolete the day it rolled of the production line, designed for a mission that dissolved when the enemy it was designed to attack dissolved. It is well-known as the most expensive bomber to operate, the most prone to breakdown and the most expensive to repair. Percentage-Wise, there are so many in the shop one wonders how many if any can get into the air. It is a gorgeous plane and to would look best on the front lawns of air museums, next o the Blackbird.
The B1 is not stealthy and thus is not suitable for penetrating any country advanced enough to have a decent surface to air missile system even the Houthis could take it down. It is very fast but not as fast as the slowest missile. It is impressive as a demonstration of American power but all those looking at it who have the slightest knowledge have a little chuckle.
A sensible government would have made this aging fleet into lawn ornaments long ago but of course politics and an utter disregard for the cost of operating a flying dinosaur prevail.
What is your back ground on flying and maintaining the aircraft ?
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This has got to be the worst idea EVER. B-1B Lancer is capable of a max 1.3 G pull-up at full load. This makes it a TERRIBLE choice for terrain following or low-level operations of any kind. In addition, the B-1B is a swing-wing design, so the wings were never designed for hard points at all. In addition, the bays are all directly under the centerline and therefore not designed for low-slow operations when the bays are opened (and need baffles open just to make it possible to release basic iron bombs or JDAMS. Finally, nobody has proven the B-1B to be combat hardened against shrapnel or gunfire from below, to which any gunship would be constantly vulnerable when operating in nay ground support role. Sorry, this idea ranks right up there with the Nuclear Aircraft program as bone-headed.
Not even close to possible if not hard mounted.. ac-130s have a under 1 MOA on their guns because all systems are hard attached and measured to the airframe. Not possible with a bay loadable gun system. Is someone looking to make a billion dollar donation to Boeing? “We’ll try (but not very hard), Sadness, it’s impossible”.. The billion went to non refundable research and development, you understand? Right?
“Not possible with a bay loadable gun system. ”
Engineering history is littered with debris from “not possible” claims. I see no reason why not as long as the loadable item is securely attached to the airframe.
Personally, I’d rather see the B1-R concept play out, with a B1 airframe modified to accept F-22 engines. A (once again) Mach 2 capable B1 with a large air-to-air loadout seems like a good idea these days. The F-35 could cue AMRAAMs from contested airspace, and the B1 could deliver them while staying well away from danger.
Gregory T Currence says
B1B Bomber can be gunship,/ Bomber/ Rockets/ Missile truck,all in one load. Multi purpose fighter Bomber.
Gregory T Currence says
That would make the B1Bomber a bad Mamatama.
Boeing should stick to doing what Boeing does well which lately is….um, well uh…
a b says
Never previously saw legendary used as a euphemism for useless.
Joshua Tolbert says
They can’t fly now without flying spares. We really want to chance the lives of the troops on the ground with a 20% FMC aircraft? Send then to the scrap yard and get the $0.60 cent a 100lbs for them and cut our losses.
Brian Foley says
Of course it could work…when pigs fly and Congress turns honest….so essentially….no, just kidding. But there’s no reason the USAF shouldn’t suck a couple of billion out of their reduced budget to fiddle with the idea. Then they could equip the crew with really cool helmets and have a lever that controls the weapon…but let’s redesign it to look like a big ball…and then we get some guy with a deep voice to walk around inside of it a scare the begeezus out of the crew….yeah, that’s the ticket.
Dylan Banks says
I think it’s a cool idea but not practical at all! We already have Ghost Rider. Just another way to justify spending taxpayers dollars!
Buck Fiden says
Please. No. Someone swat that ‘Good Idea Fairy’!
Has Anyone else noticed if u trade the first letters in Buck’s name , it reads “F*CK BIDEN…hilarious!!!!!
Charles Phillips says
As a retired USAF officer, and a former maintenance guy… This is just nuts. The B-1B is far too expensive to fly per hour, a gunship needs to be able to “dwell” over a potential target. The B-1B is also FAR too vulnerable to ground fire! If it could hit a target with a cannon, the enemy could hit it with a lot of anti-aircraft cannons and missiles! The bomber would last about ten minutes in combat. Sadly we also have far too few B-1Bs (I almost got on a task force several years ago to revive some that were stored in The Boneyard in Arizona) since they have other missions. I would love to see the USAF retain them, but it only makes sense to retain them in a long range strike mission.
I remember seeing a video where a B-1 was modified with new engines and a v-tail to become a missile truck. I’m against the new engines and aerodynamics but could see a value to being a missile truck carrying dozens of AIM-120s. Let the 5th Gen planes be the forward sensors and the B-1s be the shooters. Kind of what is in mind with the F-15EXs but to a higher level.
Richard S Johnson says
True. I read the book. They also modified B52 into supersonic stealth missile platforms armed tomahawk Cruse missiles and smart bomb or too. They became battlestars. Included with drones that could fight the good fight. It’s a hell of a book
series includedd Mach 2 B 1s
Thomas A Karlen says
Driving past Boeing field,a deafening roar id never heard,in less than a minute the B-1 was past Mt Ranier
Cornel Choskey says
How about we load them up with LRASM and base them in pairs near the first island chain in the Pacific.
Sell a few to Israel. They need to take out the Iranian nuclear sites.
Last time I ed, Jay, we do not sell Israel anything…we donate them, trying to make up for allowing Hitler to gas 80% of the Jewish race…that’s the American way!!!
Charles Phillips says
Aircraft like that take a LOT of maintenance (take it from a former maintenance guy) so you would need to base probably ten (with a LOT of support) to have two ready to go all the time.
Ok. We have ,give or take, 45 airframes. Spin ‘em up, patch ‘em up and load ‘em up as quickly as possible. 4 sets of 10 on a rotating ready alert status. The idea being to give the Chicoms too many nightmare scenarios to even contemplate aggression.
I like Mike’s idea, because the longer we stand by and let China improve their armed forces without annihilating them, the more impossible that vitally needed mission becomes…it may be too late already!!! Wake up America…or perish…