Boeing officials have revealed that the US Air Force (USAF) plans to test the B-1B Lancer bomber’s hypersonic weapons capabilities by September of next year.
Strategic development and investment manager for Boeing’s bomber program, Robert Gass, explained that the aircraft will feature both boost-glide rocket propulsion and air-breathing hypersonic missiles, Abilene Reporter News reported.
Hypersonic Missile Types
According to the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency (DARPA), a boost-glide rocket “accelerates its payload to high speeds. The payload then separates from the rocket and glides unpowered to its destination.”
Gass said the missiles are maneuverable and can “evade interception by enemy air defenses.”
The air-breathing one hypersonic missile is slower and has lower range, but due to its smaller size it can fit in more aircraft than a boost-glide one.
B-1B: “First-Choice” Bomber
At the quarterly meeting of the Military Affairs Committee of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce, Gass and B-1 advanced programs manager Dan Ruder explained that the B-1B is currently the “first-choice” bomber option. The B-52 Stratofortress is seven decades old and in need of upgrade, while the upcoming Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is expected to be inducted into the service in the mid-2020s.
The B-1B, inducted in 1985, is one of three bombers, including the B-2 Spirit and the B-52, currently serving the air force. Unlike the other two, however, the Rockwell International (now part of Boeing) aircraft doesn’t carry nuclear weapons.
Hypersonic Weapons Advantages
Explaining the advantages of hypersonic weapons, the officials cited its speed, at more than Mach 5 and that it can be fired from a “more survivable distance.” They also acknowledged that Russia and China have nosed ahead of the US in hypersonic weapons development.
“The US years ago did not pursue this kind of weaponry and the nation now is behind both Russia and China,” Gass admitted while responding to a question the outlet reported. “We are trying to catch back up,” Ruder chipped in.
The duo acknowledged they would face “headwinds” while making the B-1B hypersonic-ready due to design and finance issues, adding that only the active aircraft will be retrofitted, removing the possibility of their 17 Lancers sent to the “boneyard” for storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Ruder said two hypersonic missiles, each weighing 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg) and more than 20 feet (6 meters) in length, will be outfitted on the bomber’s six hardpoints through a “load adaptive modular.”