Skip to comments.B-1 Bomber Being Used In A Variety Of Missions During Iraq Air War
Posted on 03/28/2003 9:08:42 AM PST by Stand Watch Listen
With its combination of long range, high speed and large weapons payload, the B-1 bomber is proving to be a valuable asset during the air campaign over Iraq, according to members of the 405th Air Expeditionary Wing who fly the aircraft.
The B-1 has demonstrated its flexibility by flying a number of missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, members of the 405th AEW said during a Pentagon teleconference with reporters this week.
"We are hitting a wide range of targets," wing commander Col. James Kowalski said March 25 from an undisclosed location in the Central Command area of responsibility. "[We're hitting] suppression of enemy air defense-type of targets where we're actually creating destruction effects on those targets; we're hitting fielded forces; we're hitting leadership targets; and just the other day we were in downtown Baghdad in the daylight striking bunkers."
Though it has been flying for almost 20 years and is not a stealth aircraft like the F-117 stealth fighter and B-2 stealth bomber, the B-1 has flown over the most heavily defended airspace in Iraq in recent days, according to AEW officials. B-1s first flew missions over Baghdad on day two of OIF, and flew the first daylight missions over the city on day three, proving that "air dominance is not a problem here," Kowalski said.
The B-1 is not a stealthy aircraft in the traditional sense, however, it is perhaps better suited to make daylight bombing runs because, with its ability to go supersonic, it is faster than the F-117 and the B-2, analysts point out. In addition to its speed, the B-1 has the ability to fly low, enabling it to avoid radar and giving it greater flexibility in the missions it undertakes.
The B-1 was built to fly fast and low in order to penetrate Soviet air defenses, drop nuclear bombs and "get the hell out of there" quickly, said Jack Spencer, senior defense analyst for the Heritage Foundation. The B-2 bomber, by contrast, was developed to undertake the same mission "without ever being detected," meaning it relies on low observable design instead of speed and low flight, he added.
"Generally, the B-1 is chosen because of its ability to drop all-weather day [or] night, to put multiple targets at risk from a single bomber," said Col. Peter Kippie, vice commander of the wing and a B-1 pilot.
The ability to carry more precision-guided bombs than any other Air Force platform -- up to 24 Joint Direct Attack Munitions on each sortie -- is perhaps the B-1's most important characteristic, members of the 405th AEW said.
"Because it has the long [range] and it has the capability of carrying more munitions than any other aircraft out there except for B-2s with the cluster bombs, we have a very dynamic capability to strike . . . 24 targets per aircraft not only on scheduled targets, but also across the entire [area of responsibility]," Kippie said. "So, basically, there is not a target within Iraqi airspace that is not at risk when we take off."
The B-2 can carry a maximum of 16 JDAMS, the B-52 can carry 12 and the F-117 has no ability to carry JDAMS, according to Air Combat Command. The B-2 can carry up to 34 cluster bombs, but those munitions are not precision-guided.
For all its attributes, however, the B-1 is not without its problems. The B-2, for example, is a "more modern aircraft from head to toe," Spencer said, pointing out the need for upgrades in the B-1's electronic defense systems. The Pentagon cancelled the B-1 defensive systems upgrade program earlier this year after years of cost overruns (ITAF, Dec. 13, 2002, p1).
The lack of modernized electronic defenses, however, is not affecting the B-1's performance in Iraq, a weapon systems operator with the 405th AEW said during the teleconference.
"We have had some systems recently cut in the defense spending budget . . . which certainly would help in the environment we're in," Capt. Ty Neuman said. "The defensive system we're currently operating is sufficient with the threat we're currently operating under but it certainly could use upgrades as well."
Spencer also cautioned against judging the B-1's ability to handle future threats by its performance in Iraq.
So far in the Iraq war, B-1 aircrews have been assigned targets prior to taking off in most cases, but have been receiving updates in flight from the Combined Air Operations Center via an e-mail-like communications system.
The assignments come from the CAOC after "an extensive scrubbing of the Joint Task Force Commander's objectives," Kippie said. "The CFACC, or Combined Force Air Component Commander then puts his commander's intent on the joint task force commander's overall objectives and they are then broken down into targets."
Although Air Force officials refused to identify where the 405th AEW is based, the wing members said it is the only base in the AOR that has B-1 bombers and that aircraft are flying from that base in support of operations in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. The wing personnel said B-52 bombers, E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft and KC-135 tankers are also based at the undisclosed location. It was widely reported during Operation Enduring Freedom that B-1s and B-52s were flying from a British air base on the Island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
-- Hampton Stephens