Air Platforms

AFA 2019: US Air Force considering divesting B-1Bs in favour of B-21s, other bomber improvements

18 September 2019

The Rockwell B-1B with its wings swept forward. The US Air Force’s top officer said this configuration, in addition to flying at slow speeds and medium altitude, has led to significant structural deficiencies with the platform. Source: IHS Markit/Patrick Allen

Key Points

  • The US Air Force is considering retiring some B-1B aircraft so it can spend that money on other bomber portfolio priorities
  • These could include new B-52 engines and more B-21 aircraft earlier in the acquisition timeline

The US Air Force (USAF) is considering divesting Rockwell B-1B Lancer strategic bomber aircraft in favour of diverting that money towards getting additional Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider long range strike bomber (LRSB) aircraft up front and other bomber portfolio improvements.

USAF Chief of Staff General David Goldfein told reporters on 17 September that the B-1B has significant structural issues from being operated in the least optimal configuration for years, and that it would be cost prohibitive to return many of them to fully operational status. He said the B-1B was designed to fly at low altitude and at high speeds to penetrate enemy air defences and take out targets. The USAF has been flying the aircraft at medium altitude at very slow speeds and with wings forward for the past 18 years, which coincides with missions flown in uncontested airspace in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The USAF is therefore considering retiring those B-1Bs that could not be returned to fully operational status and diverting that money to bomber portfolio improvements including long-range precision strategic weapons and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress re-engining. New B-52 engines would not only keep the aircraft viable but would also decrease the service's aerial refuelling tanker requirement, Gen Goldfein said. This will be important as the USAF will need to tackle the vast distances of the Pacific in near-peer competition in the region.

Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to all our insight content, please enquire about our subscription options at

(287 of 370 words)