The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) is planning to put the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic missiles externally on the B-1B Lancer strategic bomber, Airforcemag reported citing AFGSC chief Gen. Timothy Ray.
Gen. Ray said in an interview with the Air Force Magazine that he wants to refurbish and modernize the remaining B-1Bs after the Air Force retires 17 airframes from the fleet. The proposed modification would include opening up eight external hardpoints on the B-1B bomber’s fuselage to carry missiles externally including the ARRW hypersonic missiles. The hardpoints were originally planned to carry two AGM-86 ALCM nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missiles each but subsequent treaty agreements with Russia took the B-1Bs out of the nuclear mission and the hardpoints were covered over.
“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,” Ray said. A B-1 squadron typically has 18 aircraft.
In August last year, the USAF 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, demonstrated expanded B-1 carriage options.
The demonstration showed a notional hypersonic missile mock-up attached to a Conventional Rotary Launcher (CRL) installed in the B-1B’s internal weapons bay; the same CRL is used on the B-52H Stratofortress nuclear-capable bombers. For the demonstration, the bomber was also outfitted with an inert AGM-86 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) attached to a pylon, which was attached to one of its original hardpoints.
The AGM-183A ARRW is a hypersonic strike weapon being developed by Lockheed Martin for the Air Force. The weapon is a boost-glide hypersonic system and consists of a rocket booster and a hypersonic glider warhead. After being launched from an aircraft, the booster rocket accelerates to high speeds before releasing the hypersonic glide warhead payload which then glides unpowered to its target at hypersonic speeds.
Using the eight external hardpoints and the weapon bay rotary launcher, a B-1B could conceivably carry 31 ARRW hypersonic missiles.
Conventional Version of LRSO
Gen. Timothy Ray also said that he sees a conventional version of the Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) weapon as a sensible approach to replacing the AGM-86C/D Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missile (CALCM) if a weapon with longer range than the AGM-158B JASSM-ER missile is required. The CALCM was retired on 20 November 2019, replaced in the conventional standoff strike role by the JASSM-ER, the extended-range variant of the JASSM.
The LRSO is a nuclear-armed ALCM under development that will replace AGM-86 nuclear-armed missiles that have been operational since 1986. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin received separate $900 million contracts from the Department of Defense and Air Force and are developing their own versions. The contracts are expected to be complete by the end of 2022 when the DoD will select one design to continue further developments.