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    Resurrected Legend: The B-1 Lancer’s Journey from Boneyard to Bomber Fleet Revival

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    You’re probably familiar with the B-1B Lancer, also known as “The Bone,” a longstanding fixture in the U.S. bomber arsenal since the 1980s.

    As the sole supersonic bomber in the U.S. Air Force, it boasts extensive capabilities for long-range multi-mission operations.

    Originally intended for nuclear delivery, the B-1B transitioned to a role exclusively focused on conventional ordnance in the 1990s.

    It gained renown for its pivotal roles in Operation Allied Force and Operation Enduring Freedom, contributing significantly to U.S. strike missions despite its involvement in just 2% of them, dropping over 40% of the U.S. weapons used in these conflicts.

    While the B-1B is well-known, its conceptual variant, the B-1R, remains relatively obscure, never materializing beyond the drawing board.

    “As operations were ramping up in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004, the Air Force realized that its bomber capabilities were stretched thin,” Lowther wrote.

    “In many ways the Northrop B-2 was the perfect bomber for many roles…nigh on invisible (and thus indestructible), able to haul vast amounts of ordnance, with the precision to drop surprise packages onto the heads of enemies with great precision. But there were only 21 B-2s and they were too expensive to risk.”

    Anyway, the Air Force initiated an exploration into alternatives to the B-2 that could be swiftly developed to bolster the U.S. bomber fleet.

    Various options were considered, including modifications to the F-22, retrofitting cargo planes with bombs and missiles, and even designing entirely new bomber models.

    Then, Boeing proposed a transformation of the existing B-1B into what they dubbed the “B-1R,” with “R” denoting “Regional.”

    The envisioned B-1R would feature upgraded electronics and radar systems, the capability to carry air-to-air missiles (AIM-120 AMRAAMS) for self-defense, fully operational external hardpoints, and a switch from the F101-GE-102 turbofans to Pratt & Whitney F119s, which are utilized in the Lockheed F-22.

    The Pratt & Whitney F119 represents a substantial upgrade in engine performance, delivering greater thrust while weighing less compared to the B-1B’s F101.

    Whereas the F101 weighs 4,400 pounds and generates 17,400 pounds of thrust (30,800 with afterburner), the F119 weighs only 3,900 pounds yet can produce 26,000 pounds of thrust (35,000 with afterburner).

    Moreover, the F119 boasts enhanced fuel efficiency and, theoretically, simplified maintenance due to a reduced number of components. Undoubtedly, the adoption of the F119 would have represented a significant engine enhancement for the B-1 platform.

    “The assertion was made that the B-1R would have the capability to achieve Mach 2.2,” noted Lowther. Ultimately, though, the B-1R proposal was sidelined. “If any substantial design efforts were undertaken, evidence of such work has yet to surface,” Lowther remarked.

    Relevant articles:
    B-1R: The ‘Regional’ Version of the B-1B Lancer Bomber That Never Flew, The National Interest
    B-1 bomber rises from the ‘Boneyard’ to rejoin the Air Force’s fleet, militarytimes.com
    Rockwell B, AirVectors

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