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USAF B-1B external captive carry demo could allow future hypersonic weapon carriage

The US Air Force (USAF) recently performed an external captive carry flight with the Rockwell B-1B Lancer bomber that also featured the aircraft carrying an inert Lockheed Martin AGM-158A Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) under an external pylon for the first time.

This demonstration may allow the B-1B to carry hypersonic weapons externally, according to a 1 December service statement. General Timothy Ray, Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) chief, was quoted by the USAF as saying that adapting a small amount of the service’s B-1Bs to carry hypersonic weapons is vital to bridge the USAF’s current bomber force to its future force.

The captive carry flight, which took place on 20 November, was the culmination of numerous ground tests that began with an expanded carriage demonstration in 2019. This included a modified internal bomb bay that featured a moveable bulkhead. The demonstration showcased a configuration of the B-1B that would allow the aircraft to carry larger-sized weapons both internally and externally.

The USAF is essentially displaying its external weapons carriage capability.

“We (had) a JASSM weapon on what is traditionally the targeting pod pylon on the forward right hard point,” Major Bret Cunningham, a B-1B test pilot with the 419th Flight Test Squadron, was quoted by the USAF as saying. “We (were) demonstrating that the B-1B has the capability to carry weapons and employ them externally.”

This extensive engineering review will help the USAF understand areas where it needs to focus to maintain the B-1B as a multi-mission weapon system. This could lay the groundwork for integration of future weapons on the aircraft.

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