It has been a busy year for the B-1B Lancer, a workhorse bomber for the U.S. Air Force. The plane has been involved in airstrikes against the Islamic State militant group for months, including during an onslaught on the Syrian town of Kobane that eventually helped Kurdish forces take the town back from enemy fighters.
The B-1B also is in the midst of getting new weapons. While the aircraft in the Middle East continue to make bombing runs, other Lancers stateside have been involved in a series of experiments to upgrade the plane’s arsenal of weapons.
Air Force officials said Monday that the bomber has become the first U.S. aircraft to be approved for a new long-range missile. The Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER), made by Lockheed Martin, more than doubles the range of the legacy JASSM missile to more than 500 miles. Each missile weighs about 2,000 pounds, and uses infrared technology to find its target.
The older JASSM is used on the B-52 Stratofortress bomber and the F-15E Strike Eagle and F-16 Fight Falcon fighter jets, Air Force officials said. To date, however, the long-range missile only has been approved for use on the Lancer. It isn’t clear if and when it will be used in airstrikes.
The breakthrough comes as a new B-1B squadron settles in for a deployment targeting militants in Iraq and Syria. Air Force officials said last week that the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, of Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., replaced the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, of Dyess Air Force Base, Tex. They are flying from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and performing missions over Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
“We’ve dropped approximately 250 munitions on both deliberate targets, which are targets assigned prior to take off, and dynamic targets, which are targets passed to our airmen while they are airborne,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Kramer, the squadron commander.
The B-1B also has been involved in testing for another weapon, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). The round, developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with the Navy and the Air Force, has a 1,000-pound warhead. It underwent a successful test flight from the Lancer bomber last month.