On May 8th of this year, Boeing was granted a patent that shows a number of potential cannon configurations for legendary supersonic bomber, the B-1B Lancer. The patent’s details range from conformal pods that house turrets to a suspension system that would allow massive cannons to be lowered from the bomber’s payload doors. While the turret placement is different, and even the cannons themselves (ranging from 25mm to 40mm in size), the overall concept is the same: to arm America’s outgoing supersonic bomber with a similar type of firepower already seen in C-130 gunships.
At first glance, the idea seems almost like science fiction. Despite dating back to the 1970s, the B-1B Lancer is America’s only long distance, heavy payload bomber capable of breaching the supersonic barrier and sustaining speeds in excess of Mach 1. It’s folding wings, reminiscent of the F-14 Tomcat of Top Gun fame, may be the only aspect of the legendary “Bone” that betrays its dated origins. There’s no question that the idea of a supersonic gunship screaming across the sky at Mach 1.2 before expanding its wings, reducing its flight speed and raining hate down on enemy positions in a battlefield of the future sounds exciting but just how practical would such a transition be?
First, the pros.
With the B-1B slated for retirement in the coming years, there would need to be a pretty significant reasoning behind keeping the nearly fifty-year-old platform operational beyond its current projected service life, and to be fair, there are aspects of a B-1B gunship that might benefit the American defense infrastructure. Currently, America relies on the AC-130U gunship to provide heavy cannons from an airborne vantage point, but some elements of the air frame limit its strategic value — in particular, how easily targeted the behemoth can be during day time operations.