The United States military is unquestionably the largest and most powerful on the planet, but even the massive U.S. defense budget no longer supports the age of platform development America enjoyed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.  A half century ago, America was already developing a number of the combat aircraft we continue to employ to this day – aircraft like the U.S.’ first stealthy long-range bomber, the B-1B Lancer.

Originally designed to carry nuclear payloads through enemy air defenses, the B-1B Lancer was eventually converted for use in multiple conventional attack strategies.  Its massive payload capacity of 75,000 pounds, coupled with its supersonic capabilities and fighter jet-like handling make it a valuable asset on the battlefield to this day.

Because of the massive expense associated with maintaining combat operations in multiple theaters around the globe simultaneously for the better part of 16 years, there has been an increased need to find new and creative uses for existing platforms in order to better engage potential threats in the near future.  While new planes are indeed under development, even the F-35, which should have been fully integrated into force-wide operations years ago, has dragged on well past deadlines and budget ceilings.  In order to combat near-peer enemy forces like China or Russia, it’s clear that the United States must find new solutions in old platforms; and that’s just what it now intends to do with the Lancer.

Last week, a B-1B Lancer bomber successfully deployed the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) during free-flight operations for the first time.  The successful test not only marks the first “end-to-end functionality test” for the new LRASM, but also served as proof of theory that the B-1B can provide valuable anti-ship offensive and defensive options in support of America’s Navy.

According to a Navy press release, the LRASM successfully navigated through a series of planned way points, transitioned into mid-course guidance and used its onboard multimodal sensor to locate and close with a target.  It then reduced its altitude to skim the surface of the sea to avoid being identified or intercepted by missile defense systems and successfully impacted the hull of its target.

Air Force B-1B Lancer successfully fires anti-ship missile in free flight for the first time
A Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) integrated on F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for testing

This test represents a major accomplishment for the LRASM program and the dedicated team of government and industry professionals committed to accelerated acquisition,” said Capt. Todd Huber, LRASM director. “Today marks a significant step towards providing the operational community with a leap in critical surface warfare capability by next year.”

The addition of the LRASM in the B-1B’s armaments means America will have the ability to target and destroy enemy vessels well before they’re able to come into range of striking the Nimitz and Ford class carriers America relies on for force projection around the globe.  Although these massive warships and their accompanying carrier groups harbor anti-ship defenses as well, America’s anti-ship armaments are considered to be behind the curve when compared to competitors, in large part because the U.S. has not had to participate in ship-to-ship warfare in decades.  Plans to mount the missile on carrier-launched F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet platforms are also under development.

The LRASM is expected to enter early operational capability aboard the B-1B Lancer as soon as 2018, with full deployment on both Lancer and U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets the following year.


Images courtesy of the U.S. Navy