A Bomber for the Navy

By: Will Spears and Ross Hobbs
Estimated Reading Time: 13 Minutes

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.

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.

“In other words,” Work continued, “give the whole Chinese anti-access / area denial network no targets to shoot at.”

Secretary Work is not the only defense expert to propose that the Navy get into the bomber business. Analyst Robert Haddick devoted several pages of his influential book Fire on the Water to the idea. Unlike Work, Haddick proposed that the Navy acquire its own fleet of the next-generation Long Range Strike Bomber (or what has become the B-21), in a joint arrangement with the Air Force. To pay for it, Haddick suggested that the Navy scale back on purchases of the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, F-35C Joint Strike Fighters, and DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which he argued would be of limited usefulness in a missile-contested environment. Haddick wrote:

“With these stealthy bombers instead, the Navy would have maritime airpower that would actually be useful against China’s navy under way in the heavily defended Near Seas and against the PLA’s naval bases and ‘anti-navy’ forces—missions too dangerous for the Navy’s aircraft carriers and destroyers.”

Work and Haddick both recognized that a Navy-operated bomber runs against contemporary notions of “jointness,” notions which Work characterized as a “monolithic cudgel.” They both emphasized the importance of mission effectiveness, or “what can get the job done,” over parochial service interests or respect for swim lanes. For Haddick, specifically, it’s all about who is responsible to achieve control of a contested sea—a perennial Navy mission. If the Navy will be held accountable to control the sea, Haddick argued, then it should have the tools necessary to do it. That, to Haddick, means bombers. He continued:

“Under the theories of Air-Sea Battle and joint operational access, it shouldn’t matter which service, or combination of services, actually does the work. But in practice, the Navy will have the most intense interest both in maritime challenges, such as land-based “anti-navy” forces, and in development of the capabilities and doctrine necessary to cope with such challenges. Top-level policymakers interested in making sure the “anti-navy” problem is fixed will have a strong reason to assign the problem—and the resources—to the Navy.”

A B-1B releases a LRASM during early trials of the AGM-158C anti-ship missile. The B-1 is the first aircraft to become operational with the weapon. (Lockheed Martin)

Fire on the Water was published in 2014, and while it has become required reading in war colleges for its depiction of China’s military expansion, Haddick’s call for a naval variant of the Long-Range Strike Bomber never garnered much attention. Concern over the high-end fight has only grown, though, and Work’s recent conjecture is a case in point which reframes Haddick’s argument. A rigorous testing program has determined the B-1 could fly through 2040 without a major life extension, but the Air Force has decided to retire it early to make room for the B-21 Raider. What if, instead of going to the boneyard, the B-1 were reassigned to the Navy?

The B-1 as a Sea Control Bomber
The Rockwell B-1 has had an interesting ride as a program of record. Designed to replace the 1960s-era B-52 as the Air Force’s primary nuclear bomber, the first B-1A flew in 1974. It was canceled by the Carter administration before entering production but then revived as the B-1B Lancer under Reagan. The B-1B featured improved avionics and greater payload than its predecessor, as well as an 85% reduction in radar cross-section at a slight penalty to speed. 100 were built; 63 remain in service today. It was divested of the nuclear mission in 1994, its enormous bomb bays repurposed to a variety of conventional attack munitions.

A classic example of Cold War-era design for lethality, the B-1 offers a combination of speed, flexibility, payload, and range that remains unmatched in its class. Capable of traveling for hours at near supersonic speeds, it can surge across vast oceans faster and with less refueling support than any current US or allied nation aircraft. It is also more maneuverable than other bombers and far more flexible. B-1 crews train at both high and low altitudes to perform a variety of mission sets, including large-scale standoff weapon attacks, large-scale Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) attacks, Close Air Support (CAS), Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance (SCAR), Non-traditional Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (NTISR), and Air Operations in Maritime Surface Warfare (AOMSW) which includes Counter Fast Attack Craft (FAC)/Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC), Aerial Mine Laying, and War at Sea against surface vessels.

The Navy’s primary use for the B-1 would be for the delivery of standoff weapons like LRASM or the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) against peer adversaries. These could destroy high-end warships and coastal cruise missile systems on short notice and from a comfortable distance, creating multiple avenues of approach for distributed naval forces. In scenarios short of war, they provide a powerful deterrent to maritime aggression, demonstrating both the capability and the resolve to project power into a contested environment. In asymmetric or low-intensity conflicts the B-1 would continue to deliver the same versatile combat power that it has for decades, only it would be administered by the Navy instead of the Air Force.

This versatility is probably the B-1’s most compelling feature. Of all bombers in service, the B-1 doesn’t just carry the largest payload (75,000 pounds; the B-52 and B-2 carry 70,000 and 40,000 pounds respectively), but its repertoire of supported weapons and combat systems is among the most elaborate fielded by any aircraft today. Included are the aforementioned long-range standoff weapons (LRASM and JASSM), as well as GPS- and laser-guided JDAMs (GBU-31, 38, 54), unguided bombs and sea mines (Mk-82, 84, 62, 65), and a multitude of sensors including the Sniper targeting pod and a Synthetic Aperture Radar. It also features a powerful defensive avionics suite, capable of providing electronic countermeasures against advanced threat systems.

Some examples of potential Navy combat loadouts and mission sets are below. B-1 squadrons normally train to a minimum of two aircraft for a given mission, so the ordnance brought to bear would probably reflect some multiple of the following:

  • Sea Denial: 24 LRASM
  • A2/AD Rollback: 8 LRASM & 16 JASSM
  • Strategic Attack: 24 JASSM
  • Aerial Mine Laying: 84 Mk-62 or 12 Mk-65
  • Counter FAC/FIAC: 10 CBU-105D/B and 6 GBU-54
  • CAS for SOF/USMC: 8x GBU-31, 6x GBU-38, 6x GBU-54
B-1 flying with Japanese F-15s and U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs over the Pacific as part of a show of force.

In addition to firepower, versatility is also a function of range. Without aerial refueling, the B-1 can fly for over 8 hours, or approximately 3,500 nautical miles. To put this in perspective, it can fly from Hawaii to Guam without refueling, or perhaps more pertinently, from Guam to the Taiwan Strait and back. With refueling, B-1 missions have exceeded 24 hours. A notional Concept of Operations could distribute the B-1 fleet between CONUS naval air stations and established overseas airbases like Andersen (Guam), Hickam (Hawaii) and Al Udeid (Qatar). Like they are today, these would remain on-call 24/7 for immediate response to emergent tasking with or without aerial refueling. Deployed in concert with missile-bearing attack submarines, and empowered by flexible refueling options like carrier-based unmanned tankers, a distributed force of Sea Control Bombers would present a complex and risk-prohibitive planning dilemma to any would-be maritime aggressor.

Many critics would argue that any new aircraft acquisitions should be unmanned. That may be true, provided that we ignore the unresolved issues with autonomous targeting in a communications-denied environment. At any rate, the B-1 is not a new acquisition; it is a thoroughly established system. In this sense it can serve as a proof-of-concept, buying time for an autonomous replacement to achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC).

For navalists intrigued by the B-1’s superlative capabilities, excitement should be tempered with respect for its costs. Unsurprisingly, the B-1 is a labor-intensive beast, demanding 74 maintenance man-hours per flying hour (MMH/FH) with an estimated cost per flying hour of $70K (to be fair, the B-52 also costs about $70K per flying hour, while the B-2 costs between $110K and $150K). These are Air Force estimates and may not be perfectly fungible with the Navy’s models for aircraft ownership costs, but their implications are clear. Even if the B-1 fleet were reassigned to the Navy “free of charge,” there is little doubt that manning and maintaining it would be expensive.


Then there’s the matter of age. Due to factors like fatigue and diminishing manufacturing sources, aircraft tend to become more expensive to keep airworthy as they get older. While various modernization efforts have prevented the B-1 from falling into obsolescence, the airframe is clearly in the “aging” phase of its life cycle, as Congressional Budget Office analysts found that the B-1’s cost per flying hour grew by a real rate (i.e., independent of inflation) of 2.9% between 1999 and 2016.


Some of the B-1’s ownership costs will be reduced through modernizations as moving parts are eliminated and high-failure electronics are replaced with solid-state circuitry. Some of these modernization efforts are in progress today; others were shelved with the decision to retire the B-1 but could be revived. Additional savings could be gleaned by accepting sacrifices in performance, as might be prudent upon reassignment of the B-1 to a different mission. For instance, if the Sea Control mission set does not require supersonic speeds, the B-1 could be outfitted with engines that are less powerful but more reliable and fuel-efficient. Any such modifications would demand an initial injection of funding, though, as would the necessary modernizations to keep the airframe flying through 2040 or beyond.

When viewing B-1’s costs against the anticipated price of the B-21 Raider program, it’s little surprise that the Air Force is ready to retire it. It is hardly efficient to support four different classes of bomber simultaneously. Their decision raises the question, though: If the B-1 is too expensive for the Air Force, whose primary mission is long-range strike, then how could it be affordable to the Navy, whose primary mission is not long-range strike? If the B-1 were reassigned to the Navy without additional funding to man and maintain it, then it could easily turn into a financial albatross, diverting resources from core Navy priorities (e.g., warships) to essentially duplicate the capabilities of a sister service.

The heresy of a Navy-operated, land-based long-range bomber crosses service lines. For the Air Force, it would represent an intrusion upon what has long been its operational territory as well as the original rationale for its existence as an independent armed service. From a more practical standpoint, rather than turn over a fully furnished weapons system to another service, Air Force leadership would almost certainly prefer to gut the B-1 and its associated logistics tail, keeping the useful parts inside the Air Force.

For the Navy, practical concerns could be difficult to distinguish from emotional resistance, because taking on the B-1 would probably demand sacrifices in some programs more traditionally recognizable as “Navy.” In theory, being land-based should have no bearing on the B-1’s legitimacy as a naval instrument, because the Navy has long relied upon land-based aircraft. Platforms like the P-8 Poseidon and the MQ-4C Triton are critical elements of today’s balanced fleet. In reality, though, a heavy bomber like the B-1 would upset the balance, instantly becoming one of the Navy’s most exquisite and potent offensive weapons. It would give credence to the charge, which the Navy denies carefully, that major surface combatants and aircraft carriers are too vulnerable to fight under threat of weapons like the DF-21D.

At issue is the Navy’s sense of identity, and whether it is derived from what a navy is (ships and aircraft… but principally ships) or what a navy does (control the maritime domain). Indeed, many of the Navy’s traditional missions would receive no value from the B-1. It cannot pull into a new ally’s port for a courtesy visit, nor can it board and search a vessel suspected of trafficking weapons. It cannot destroy a midcourse ballistic missile, nor can it hunt and kill enemy submarines. What the B-1 can do is sink ships, a lot of them, and quickly. It can do this on short notice across vast distances, and it can do it without engaging “A2/AD” missile systems. That the Navy could use a weapon like that is beyond dispute; whether it should, depends on what the Navy would give up and the relative importance of the Sea Control mission. It is worthy of analysis.

Ultimately, it may not be about what either service wants, but what Congress wants. The B-1 fleet is a major investment of national treasure, and Congress could decide that it should be kept airworthy through the entirety of its service life as a matter of good stewardship. Some representatives, ostensibly concerned about peer adversaries and a relative decline in US military power, may prefer to keep the B-1 flying in whatever capacity could be justified. Under this scenario, it would certainly be simpler and cheaper to keep it under the Air Force, unless Congress was persuaded that the Navy would make better use of it.


Closing Thoughts
The B-21 is expected to reach IOC in the mid- to late- 2020s, with the phase-out of B-1 beginning in 2030. Air Force Global Strike Command has already begun to shift focus away from the B-1, having announced intentions to extend the B-52 through 2050. Once the B-21 starts flying, support for B-1 will almost certainly stop. Considering these timelines, if B-1 were to be reassigned to the Navy, the ideal time for transition would be sometime between 2028 and 2030.

The B-21, similar to the B-2 in its design concept and stealth features, is not capable of replacing the B-1’s speed, flexibility, or payload. The early retirement of the B-1 will represent a decline in flexible US striking power across all Unified Combatant Commands at a time when it is needed most. Ideas for keeping that power at the ready, however unorthodox, should be explored thoroughly. This article’s purpose has not been to advocate for the B-1’s reassignment to the Navy, but to advocate for its consideration by a third party independent of service biases. Without thorough and professional analysis, there are too many variables at play to comment on whether this idea would be good or bad for the Navy, the Air Force, or the nation. This much is certain though: The B-1’s continued service would be bad for the PLA Navy.

LCDR Will Spears is a US Navy submariner and a student in the Multi-Domain Operational Strategist concentration at the Air Command and Staff College. He has served aboard multiple attack submarines in the Western Pacific area of responsibility. 

Maj Ross “RAW” Hobbs is a B-1 Weapons Officer Instructor Pilot and a student in the Multi-Domain Operational Strategist concentration at Air Command and Staff College.  He has over 2,000 hours of flying in the B-1 and other platforms with multiple deployments, including the Western Pacific area of responsibility.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Air Force or any organization of the US government.

OTH, multi-domain operations, emerging security environment

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32 thoughts on “A Bomber for the Navy

  • April 16, 2019 at 6:59 am

    Excellent analysis by the authors – they hit the nails on the head with respect to both the common sense of keeping B-1Bs for anti-access/areal denial of enemy naval forces, and the “identity crisis” of the two competing services, Air Force and Navy.

    I think the Navy is already beginning to redefine itself as something more than just ship drivers, however, so the cultural transition in the Navy is likely to be less traumatic or resisted than feared. Already the Navy just came to the conclusion this year that probably at least half of its ships in the future fleet will not even be manned at all, with as many as 232 UVs on the surface and under the surface. Meaning the Navy will likely need fewer people than today, and many of those people in the future Navy will never set sail on a warship in their career.

    What the Navy MUST BE is a force designed to deter naval war and protect freedom of the seas, and then to fight and win naval wars if they cannot be deterred. By whatever means – not only with long range heavy bombers that, as Mr. Work said, can in a matter of hours sweep the seas of all Chinese surface ships (and prevent, for instance, any successful amphibious invasions by China of her neighbors in the IndoPac), but also with drone ships, drone subs, drone aircraft, and all of the weapons and electronic warfare and cyber warfare and resliient fleet comms and all the other tools of successful warfare in the 21st century.

    Hey, it is no longer the 1940s, or the 1970s .. we are in the middle part of the 21st century, and wars will not be fought as we did multiple generations ago. What matters is that we win, not that we preserve outdated status quos.

    • April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

      Duane, spot on! The concept of Multi-Domain Operations is not one that keeps forces segregated. One day, when we as a nation wake up to the realistic danger of peer-adversarial conflict, we will see that a coordinated, multi-domain fighting force is the ONLY way to win. Thanks for your comment!

      • April 16, 2019 at 1:42 pm

        Thank you, Ross.

        As a former Cold War SSN sailor, I know first hand that what worked back then is long outdated today.

        In terms of “multi-domain warfare”, one of my favorite war stories is of the sub that my SSN was named after, the USS Gurnard SS-254. She was of course a naval warship, but she completed the deadliest submarine patrol in all history on her fifth war patrol, to the great benefit of General MacArthur’s Army troops in New Guinea.

        The Gurnard encountered a large Japanese convoy, steaming towards New Guinea. In a surface night action of almost unimaginable destruction, the Gurnard sank two of four large troop transports in that convoy, each ship carrying a full division of Imperial Japanese Army soldiers numbering 10,000 troops each intended to oppose MacArthur’s forces. There were no survivors as the surviving convoy ships and their escorts sped away from the scene of destruction trying to save themselves.

        Thus a little 65-man naval crew in a fleet submarine.managed to kill over 20 thousand Japanese Army soldiers in less than 30 minutes of battle. The Gurnard also sank two very important large tankers as well as two more freighters in that engagement, thus depriving the Japanese of sorely needed supplies.

        How many of MacArthur’s GI’s in New Guinea owe their lives to that little sub crew? And who never knew

      • June 23, 2019 at 9:58 am

        The idea of employing a modified B-1R that is capable of Mach 2+ flight actually compliments potential hypersonic missiles. A platform that can boost a hypersonic missile to higher launch speed can either eliminate the solid fuel rocket booster or at least reduce the mass ratio thst is needed to start a SCRAMJET engine. A hypersonic missile launched from a B-52 or B-2 bomber might need a solid fuel rocket booster that masses almost as much as the missile. A B-1R would be far more survivable than a B-52 and carries a heavier payload.

    • April 17, 2019 at 5:54 am

      Super article and great return comment.
      I think it must be difficult for the armed services to grasp the extent to which the notions of what a given service does or doesn’t do has become so blurred that such définitions are almost irrelevent today. I agree with the author that the idea of a squadron of massively armed B1s showing up so rapidly in theatre would have infinitely more deterrent effect on Chinese adventurism than the simple presence of current surface platforms. Knowing that these warships and their air/marine compliments would be following on behind, once their own surface and A2AD assets had been seriously mauled, would be a distressing prospect Indeed!

      But, since innovation is so much in the air in this article, I would add a suggestion by James Holmes in the National Interest (https://nationalinterest.org/feature/us-submarines-run-silent-run-deepon-diesel-engines-11306): If the US Navy were to add a flotilla (8-12 boats) of Japanese-bought SSKs to its inventory, permanently stationed in the area, I don’t think even current Chinese fleet expansion plans or investment in hybrid warfare would wash any longer.

  • April 16, 2019 at 7:27 am

    Transferring the B-1s to the Navy is an interesting and impressive idea (if the Navy would set aside funds for it). Unfortunately, I’d put my money on parochial service interests winning out. Chances of B-1 to the Navy are on par with the idea of [USAF transferring] A-10s to the Army… somewhere between (winning-the-lottery) slim and none.

    • April 16, 2019 at 11:11 am

      Luke, I completely agree that as of right now the old model of thinking is unfortunately still parochial and tribal. I hate to use the word “hope”, but hopefully by the time the B-1 is replaced by the B-21, the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Army will just be titles to the technical owners of platforms and personnel,so when a conflict arises, forces and resources can easily flow to an overall Multi-Domain Commander who can combine the domains of air, land, maritime, EMS (including cyber), space, and human to overcome whatever conflict, minor or major. Thanks for your comment.

    • April 16, 2019 at 1:23 pm

      Luke – it is Congress that, as always, makes all the funding and authorization decisions for the entire military force. Congress is a very independent minded group of “bosses” and frequently rejects or redirects what the individual services or even the POTUS request. The first response to virtually every administration defense budget proposal is “Dead On Arrival” – the precise wording used in hearings the last couple of weeks in the House and Senate Armed Services committees in discussion of the FY-2020 defense budget.

      The B-1B may not be a long term solution, when “long term” for new weapons systems is nowadays typically 50 years or longer – but it would be a great interim stepping stone to perhaps a future unmanned “arsenal aircraft” that would make very long patrols, far longer than any human crew could undertake, to make sure that the US has complete command of the seas. That is a national priority, not just a naval priority. As WW Two proved, without control of the seas and the skies, victory on land is impossible.

  • April 16, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Be suspicious of anyone recommending manned weapon systems for future combat. The US just doesn’t have the manpower pool to man fighters and bombers for both the Navy and the Air Force in the future. Currently there is a serious shortage of pilots…imagine what that’s going to look like twenty years from now. ” Amateurs debate tactics, rank amateurs debate strategy, professionals discuss logistics” is a wise and proven axiom.

    • April 16, 2019 at 11:19 am

      Brian, thanks for your comment. I completely agree that the future will encompass a sharp increase in unmanned assets, however, like mentioned in the article, to think that the U.S. or its allies will be able to execute long-range communications and many other current or future technologies in a highly-contested environment is unfortunately incorrect and naïve. In my opinion, the next major conflict against a peer adversary will entail a well-designed attack against our C4ISR systems that allow us to execute command and control, including use of unmanned assets.

  • April 16, 2019 at 10:29 am

    Leave them with the Air Force – they then contract them out to the Navy. The Navy hires, and pays, the Air Force to maintain and man the aircraft. The Navy would control the mission sets.

  • April 16, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    Each of the several Russian Navy fleets has its own dedicated land-based air component, for exactly the same reasons and missions as the ones set forth in this article for consideration by the US military.

  • April 16, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    The Navy’s shortfall in long range strike aircraft is not going to be addressed anytime soon. Carriers are already short on strike fighter capacity. The Navy has had difficulty just filling their decks. Air wings lack the munitions payload, range, and sortie generation rate to fight a nation like China from 1,000 nm. While I think using bombers to fill this gap has merit, using an older bomber like the B-1 would be nothing more than a short term solution. It would add to its stand off missile capacity, but would not be able to penetrate a near peer airspace until air defenses have been attrited.

    A more cost effective solution would be to use economies of scale to produce more B-21s and have the AF play more of a role in sea control and long range, penetrating, strike. It would erode the utility of the carrier. But the threat is already doing that. Your options are to either try and reallocate resources to develop that capability (son of A-12) or find a more a more cost effective solution.

  • April 16, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    This is a proposition that merits serious thought. The B1-B is an extremely capable weapons system and must have its life extended. When I read these planes that outperform the B-52 at every metric are being retired in the next 10-15 years, while the B-52 is being extended to 2050 or beyond, what sense does that make?
    Shifting this very capable weapon to the Navy for the aforementioned reasons appears to make quite a bit of sense, and having them based in forward airstrips in the Pacific and elsewhere simply makes sense and provides the US with a clear increase in the military’s primary mission: Protect the homeland.

  • April 16, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    Hypersonic missiles and space based surveillance will/are making bombers obsolete. At least manned bombers, Good idea, but probably not necessary with the aforementioned systems.

  • April 16, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    If the need is there today, surely it would be more cost effective to have the already skilled USAF ground support and aircrews continue with this aircraft, and retask them to include naval engagements in their repertoire.

  • April 16, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    An excellent idea, I’m a big fan of flexible assets. It not only increases options on our side, but presents additional variables for the enemy to plan to try to defeat. Along that line, the B-1’s coastal defense could b multiplied if it could also carry a variety of long range anti-aircraft missiles as well. Coupled with the F-35 data link it would be the stand-off arsenal the stealth mode F-35 can’t carry.

    That would make the B-1 effective as both a home defense weapon, but also a semi-forward based variable. Think based in Guam responding to South China Sea. An expanded variable in a number of areas.

  • April 16, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    B-1s would make terrifying naval strike bombers, with the speed to avoid defending fighters and the gas to outlast them on station. Even the threat of a Bone raid would force an enemy naval group to run for cover or maintain constant fighter CAPs at punishingly long ranges out. Preventing standoff mine laying would be equally hard.

    Unfortunately, the B-1 or any bomber is very expensive to keep around for a limited purpose; to be economical it would need to bear a heavy share of any Pacific War, so it should stay in the USAF but be wholly transferred to West Coast and PACOM bases, with B-52s conversely concentrated in EUCOM and CENTCOM.

  • April 16, 2019 at 9:49 pm

    I may be wrong about this, but I’ve heard that the B-1 series of aircraft has flown more than 10,000 combat sorties without even one of them ever having been shot down by any adversary. Granted they’ve never faced Su-35s or S-400s but it still seems like it might be a pretty darned survivable platform, especially if used by the Navy for standoff anti ship missions across the expanse of Westpac.

    • April 17, 2019 at 9:05 am

      “Older and Wiser”—You are correct about the vast number of sorties, however, the Global War on Terror (OEF, OIF, OFS, etc) that B-1s have been heavily involved in for over 17 years does not compare to flying in/surviving a major combat operation against a near-peer or peer adversary. While many great capabilities currently exist with the B-1 (including a very capable defensive avionics suite to counter advanced surface-to-air and air-to-air threats), it cannot survive “alone and unafraid” in a highly contested environment…this is where the B-1’s incredible payload of stand-off weapons (JASSM/LRASM) comes into play. Coupled with datalink, beyond line of sight and line of sight with other platforms, the B-1 can hold large numbers of enemy targets at risk from hundreds of miles away, well outside of the threat engagement zones of SU-35s and S-400s.

  • April 17, 2019 at 6:31 am

    If this sea control bomber debate were to graduate to Congressional or Pentagon level, I surmise it would resemble the conflict about growing the USAF drone fleet during the Iraq War. SecDef Gates and CENTCOM wanted more drones and fewer F-22s while USAF brass resisted. In time it became apparent that USAF would have to embrace a larger drone mission or lose it to the other branches.

    The idea of shifting B-1s to the Navy would likely produce a similar reaction. USAF’s very reason for being would immediately be questioned and many would ask: Why not transfer other flying assets to the Army, Navy and Marines? Before that specter happens USAF would likely propose keeping its B-1s and sacrificing budget space meant for fighter-attack aircraft.

    • April 17, 2019 at 9:20 am

      TMark, very good points. Ultimately, I agree that the bureaucratic battle of this idea would be the most challenging. I believe the argument for why the Air Force should still be around goes into understanding that other services have aviation units and this transfer of the B-1 to the USN would be the exact same. No different than F-18s, in theory, B-1s would be a strong part of fleet protection and offensive attack for adversarial counter-sea attacks.

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  • April 17, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Yeah, and the Johnson-McConnell Agreement is likewise heresy.
    (AF to All Other: Our primary enemy is YOU, not the Chinese!)

  • April 17, 2019 at 10:55 am

    Of course, one other possible way to get the services to agree that the Navy gets the B-1s:

    First announce that they are being transferred to the Coast Guard.

  • April 17, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    They Navy already has land based ship killers, in my day they were called P3 Orions. Today’s modern replacement for the P3 is called a P8 Poseidon. It’s a converted 737, it can reach out bad guys any globally over sea or land. Jeesh, why someone always trying to reinvent the wheel?

  • April 17, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    The P-8 and P-3 are more vulnerable to anti-air operations than the B-1 is.

    Being a P-3 AW during the cold war, I would be hesitant be believe our survival had we been ordered to attack a Soviet battle group of any strength.

    I also wondered why we (US & NATO) never copied the Soviet ASW model and developed strategic naval bombers with REAL attack missiles, instead of relying only upon Harpoons.

  • June 11, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    An excellent article and discussion. But take a step back and ask “what problem are we trying to solve?” If the Chinese are planning to make the South China Sea a Westpac Caribbean and are concurrently establishing a Xi Jen Ping version of the Monroe Doctrine, we are back looking at ” freedom of the seas” . Do they plan to impose transit fees for commercial ships passing through? Recall the era of the Barbary pirates when everyone just paid the tribute until the U.S. Navy put a stop to them. But the South China Sea and Chinese pose a significantly larger problem. And we would be disinclined to have a Marine component to capture the Spratley Island group.

    But as an out of the box “solution” how about contracting with the Philippines to operate the B1’s. They could reactivate Clark or Cubi Point – or both – and be ready to go on a moment’s notice. And their Navy or Air Force could be trained to operate the planes. Initially costly but long term not so bad, and they do have ” issues” with China over the SCSea islands.,so this would be in their interests.👌

    • July 5, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      What about using them in the anti-air mission as well? Rotary launchers loaded with AIM-120s (or its replacement), restart Phoenix production, SM3s (and all variants). Just a thought to go along with the anti-ship mission

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  • June 28, 2021 at 9:43 pm

    Cdr Will Spears,

    I’ve read one of your articles entitled “The Undersea is a Discrete Operational Domain”. Can I request for more references or e-books pertaining to undersea defense capabilities or undersea domain if you have any?

    Pambid, Rey Leo
    Philippine Navy


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