Air Force Eyes Hypersonic Weapons For B1 Bomber

The Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) is preparing to mount hypersonic AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapons (ARRW) externally on the Rockwell B-1 Lancer supersonic bomber.

AFGSC chief Gen. Timothy Ray told Air Force Magazine, in an interview that will appear in the May issue, that the Air Force has already retired 17 B-1 airframes from the fleet. The remaining B-1s will likely be modernized, some with the ability to carry hypersonic missiles, Ray added.

"My goal would be to bring on at least a squadron's worth of airplanes modified with external pylons on the B-1, to carry the ARRW hypersonic cruise missile," he said.

He said some B-1s "will need significant structural work" to prepare them to air-launch hypersonic missiles. "We can do smart things, and we've got support from Congress to do this. This is a thing that we're working to get ourselves through. We've had a very good dialog," he added.

Modification programs for the B-1s have yet to be added to the fiscal 2021 military budget, Ray said, but it's "a project we're working on. There are several versions that we could contemplate, but we believe the easiest, fastest, and probably most effective in the short term will be to go with the external pylons."

Besides the ARRW, the Air Force is working on other types of hypersonic missiles, such as the Hypersonic Air-breathing weapon Concept. Ray said the B-1 would likely be outfitted with ARRWs, and with external hardpoints, each plane could carry upwards of 31 missiles.

Ray also said the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber would be modernized with new engines, radar, communications, and weapons. There will be external hardpoints on the wings that will allow for hypersonic missiles to be air-launched. He said the combination of the B-1 and B-52 bombers deploying with hypersonic weapons would prepare America for the modern battlefield.

Simulation of ARRW air-launch via B-52

ARRW is "boost-glide" hypersonic weapon, propelled with a rocket motor to near space, the hypersonic vehicle can then glide back to Earth at Mach 20. A combination of kinetic energy and high-explosive warhead makes the hypersonic vehicle weapon the deadliest in the world.

Hypersonic vehicle emerges from ARRW 

Here's a video from 2019, showing a B-52 bomber flying with the ARRW: 

We've noted that Russia and China are likely ahead in the hypersonic race. The first country, to mature hypersonic weapons and fifth-generation jet fighters, will dominate in the next global conflict.

"So, in a world of national (in)security, the new arms race is on. Buckle up," Rajan Menon via TomDispatch.com said in late 2019.