B-1B test-launches cruise missile externally ahead of hypersonic weapons

U.S.Air Force photo

A B-1B Lancer strategic bomber of the United States Air Force successfully carried out an external weapon release demonstration. The launch is an important milestone for the aircraft to employ hypersonic weapons in the future.

The test took place at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on December 4, 2020. It involved A B-1B Lancer of the 412th Test Wing’s 419th Flight Test Squadron based in Holloman. The missile was loaded on the external hardpoint usually carrying the bomber’s “Sniper” targeting pod. To collect as much data as possible on the weapon release for further analysis, engineers fitted the bomber with high-speed camera systems. The strategic bomber was carrying an inert AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, the same type of weapon used during the captive-carry test in November 2020. 

This was the first external weapons release for the B-1B Lancer in over 30 years. Initially intended to carry out nuclear penetration missions, its capabilities were reoriented towards conventional payloads after the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), marking the end of the Cold War. Since then, the B-1B made use solely of its internal weapon bays. 

“Demonstration of B-1B external carriage reflects the potential to keep weapon systems in the fight with increased combat capability,” commented Christopher Azzano, Air Force Test Center commander. The reversal to external hardpoints, as well as the merging of the two forward bays, are meant to give the bomber the potential to employ hypersonic weapons in the future. 

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