B1 lancerupgrade

The US Air Force’s (USAF) B-1 Lancer strategic bomber aircraft fleet deployed for the strike operations in Iraq and Syria have returned to their respective home bases in the US.

The withdrawal was followed by a Block 16 long-range strike exercise aimed at demonstrating the USAF’s ability to deploy Block 16 B-1s during a 15-hour flight to the Yukon Range in Alaska.

USAF wing weapons officer captain Ryan Stillwell said: "This exercise proved that the B-1 fleet is now capable of deploying and employing Block 16 aircraft to provide a global strike presence within hours of being tasked.

"The Block 16 upgrades results in increased situational awareness in the jets, as well as increased reliability in our systems and displays.

"This ties us into the external sensors the rest of the Air Force and military provide in a more usable way.

"Block 16 has made the B-1 a complete combat machine."

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By GlobalData

During the exercise, the three weapons bays of B-1 were loaded with inert joint air-to-surface standoff missiles (JASSM) and joint direct attack munitions (JDAM).

USAF 7th Bomb Wing director of inspections lieutenant colonel Luke Baker said: "One of the key planning factors was demonstrating the global reach of the B-1.

"The Block 16 upgrades results in increased situational awareness in the jets, as well as increased reliability in our systems and displays."

"We also wanted to demonstrate its global capability with long-range and precision attacks, which allows us to reach out and touch people across the world."

The long-range and supersonic variable-sweep wing strategic bomber is used by the USAF to support multi-national missions.

Powered by four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engines, the bomber has a maximum flying speed of 1,448km/h and is capable of carrying the AGM-86B air launch cruise missile (ALCM) and the AGM-69 short-range attack missile.

The air force currently operates a total of 67 B-1 bombers, which are expected to be in operational service until 2025.

Boeing has also upgraded the bomber’s avionics software with a Fully Integrated Data Link (FIDL) to enhance crew situational awareness and communications capability under a $45m contract from the USAF in February 2009.

Image: Airmen during a B-1 combat mission effectiveness exercise. Photo: courtesy of US Air Force / Airman 1st Class Austin Mayfield.