The U.S. Air force’s lumbering swing-wing bomber, the B-1B Lancer, is taking a back seat in the air campaign against the Islamic State.
Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown, commander of the Air Force’s Central Command, told reporters Thursday that the B-1s had been redeployed back to the United States for scheduled upgrades to the aircraft’s cockpits.
Speaking through video conference from his headquarters in Qatar, Brown said that U.S.-air campaign over Iraq and Syria might lose a “little flexibility” with the B-1 benched, but has plenty of other aircraft to make up for the deficit.
The B-1, first fielded in the mid 1980s as a nuclear strike bomber and affectionately called “Bone” by pilots, has since become the workhorse of the United States’ low intensity conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently, Syria. Capable of supersonic flight and staying airborne for long periods of time, the B-1 is able to carry 75,000 pounds of internally mounted munitions. That includes dumb bombs, GPS guided variants and cluster munitions.
Brown didn’t say when the aircraft would return to the skies over Iraq and Syria but said that he fully expected the B-1 to return. In the interim, he said, other aircraft–including those flown by coalition partners–would step up.
In recent weeks, Denmark, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have said that their aircraft would begin contributing more to the air campaign in Iraq and Syria. Denmark, which has been striking targets in Iraq, pledged to begin striking Islamic State fighters in Syria, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE both said they would reinvigorate their once-lagging air campaigns.
Brown noted that 80 percent of the strikes in Iraq and Syria are carried out by U.S. aircraft but that the United States’ coalition partners bring other capabilities to the fight such as mid-air refueling, reconnaissance platforms and combat search and rescue.