B-1 Bombers Would Make One Hell of a Maritime Strike Aircraft for the Empire, But Just 6 Are Combatworthy

B-1 Bombers Would Make One Hell of a Maritime Strike Aircraft for the Empire, But Just 6 Are Combatworthy by Will Spears for Check Point Asia

Good. Takes the danger of war with China down a notch

Abstract: Rather than sending the B-1 Lancer into early retirement, the Department of Defense could transfer it to the Navy for duty as a land-based ship-killer. Considering its speed, range, payload, and flexibility to employ the new Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), the B-1 is an ideal candidate for rebirth as a Sea Control Bomber.  

For better than a decade, the United States’ defense establishment has agonized over China’s aggressive military modernization. A growing arsenal of land-based anti-ship missiles abets an increasingly capable and assertive Chinese navy, threatening to quietly transform the East and South China Seas into de-facto Chinese territory if not forcefully challenged. The military aspects of this competition demand an ability to fight in the contested environment, prompting the development of concepts like the former Air-Sea Battle and its successor, JAM-GC, as well as a steady drumbeat of calls from senior leaders for disruptive thinking and creative solutions.

Editor’s note: Outdated as a bomber, the B-1 could serve as a potent naval strike
aircraft but that is unlikely to happen since they have been worn out so badly in the
post-9/11 wars that now between 10 and 15 percent of them air mission-worthy.

It was in this spirit of disruptive thinking that, at a CNAS-hosted panel discussion titled “A New American Way of War,” former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work casually offered up a fascinating bit of heresy:

“If the Air Force is getting rid of the B-1 bomber, I’d say ‘You are out of maritime strike.’ We’re going to give the B-1 to the Navy, we’re going to load up with 3,000 LRASMs, and we’re going to base them in Guam and all over the place, and in the first 72 hours [of a conflict] they are going to go out and hunt down and kill every ship in sight.”

Amateurs gush disruptive ideas all the time, but when an industry heavyweight like Robert Work speaks out, it’s prudent to explore his opinions. Work’s conjecture was nested in a broader discussion, beginning around the 53-minute mark, lamenting the self-imposed limitations of “jointness” in driving procurement decisions. Rather than treating land-based strike as a proprietary mission of the Air Force, Work suggests that the Navy revive its concept of the Patrol Bombing (VPB) Squadron, which employed land-based aircraft to sink enemy ships in WWII. A force of LRASM-equipped naval patrol bombers, Work contends, could destroy an adversary’s fleet from the air without tangling with its anti-ship missile systems.

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