The U.S. Air Force’s B-1B Lancer is set to fly off into retirement in the coming decade. But for now, the old warbird is still a critical part of the Bomber Task Force. Last month, the first of the aging bombers received what could be its final significant update.
On Sept. 8, the 7th Bomb Wing’s first B-1 Embracing Agile Scheduling Team (BEAST) B-1B Lancer took its first flight from Dyess Air Force Base, marking a new era of lethality for the venerable aircraft. The BEAST was designed to shorten the fielding of each system, preserve aircraft availability, and ensure compliance with federal government aviation directives.
Over the next two years, 22 more B-1Bs will be modernized at Dyess, one aircraft at a time.
“BEAST modernizes the aircraft’s avionics systems and gives it life and lethality out to 2040 and beyond,” said Col. Joshua Pope, 7th Maintenance Group commander.
“I was on the Air Force Global Strike Command staff when the project started just a short time ago, so to be here now watching it is a truly impressive feat of innovation, scheduling and teamwork between the maintenance groups, the command, and the B-1B System Program Office,” added Pope. “This truly is an all-in team effort.”
Modernizing the B-1B
The recent modifications were designed to modernize the aircraft’s Identification Friend or Foe system, provide Link 16 tactical data communications capability, and upgrade secure communications systems. The program further updated the aircraft’s defensive avionics system and upgraded its mass data storage for the most modern digital environment.
“BEAST significantly enhances the lethality of the B-1B, surpassing its current capabilities,” added Col. Dan Alford, 7th Operations Group commander. “Our aircrew are excited to get their hands on this new technology that will reduce their workload and allow them to focus on combat employment of the weapon system itself.”
Through collaboration with the B-1B System Program Office and the 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group, the B-1Bs will be modified during scheduled programmed depot maintenance at Tinker AFB and at each main operating location — Dyess AFB and Ellsworth AFB.
“This method allows for the shortest completion time while giving each bomb wing flexibility to schedule their aircraft for modification according to their aircraft availability requirements,” said Pope. “It is the best for all organizations and ensures the B-1B is ready to fight from here.”
Keeping the B-1Bs Flying
The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center is also working around measures that were taken to render the B-1’s external hardpoints inoperative under the START treaty, which precluded the B-1 from carrying nuclear weapons like the AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile externally, Air & Space Magazine reported.
Efforts to ensure the old bombers can keep flying include full-scale structural fatigue testing of individual B-1’s fuselage and wings. The Air Force has begun to create digital twins of the bomber, which should help predict structural issues and serve as a baseline for upgrades.
Though currently scheduled to be retired when the B-21 Raider comes online, the BEAST’s modifications could give the B-1Bs the ability to remain operational until 2040, and perhaps even longer.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.