USAF to retire ‘structurally deficient’ B-1Bs in 2021

US Air Force to Retire 17 B-1B Lancer Bombers

The US Air Force (USAF) has proposed to retire 17 “structurally deficient” B-1B Lancer supersonic strategic bombers in 2021.

The plan was announced by Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) and intends to focus maintenance costs and manpower on the fleet’s healthier aircraft. Along with planned withdrawal of 17 examples, AFGSC – in co-ordination with contractors, the program office, combatant command planners and airmen from the air arm’s weapons school – has changed a variety of the flight employment tactics of its remaining Lancers to preserve their longevity of life.

In a press release, AFGSC said: “Currently a portion of the B-1Bs are in a state that will require tens of millions of dollars per aircraft to get back to a status quo fleet in the short term until the B-21 Raider comes online.”

B-1B Lancer of USAF
A B-1B Lancer assigned to the 77th Weapons Squadron at Dyess AFB, Texas, takes off for Weapons School Intergration at Nellis AFB, Nevada, in November last year. USAF/A1C Bryan Guthrie

It added that “continuous [B-1B] support operations over the last 20 years have taken a toll on the airframe’s structure due to overuse in a manner not commensurate with its planned design”.

The retirement of 17 aircraft from an operational fleet of 62 will help AFGSC significantly extend the life of its healthier B-1B aircraft, while reducing costs associated with potential structural repairs during the air arm’s transition from the Lancer to the B-21.

However, the USAF is not planning to stand down any squadrons operating the B-1B, reduce manpower pools for the type or close any bases hosting the supersonic bomber. The aircraft withdrawn from US service will be spread across units based at Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB), South Dakota, and Dyess AFB, Texas.

This withdrawal marks the start of the air arm’s B-1B retirement process, which has been planned for some time and has now been sped up to take the more deficient aircraft out of operational service.

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