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B-1B bomber carries, launches missile externally for first time, Air Force says

A B-1B Lancer releases a Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile during an external release demonstration over Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., on Dec. 4. Photo by Ethan Wagner/U.S. Air Force
A B-1B Lancer releases a Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile during an external release demonstration over Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., on Dec. 4. Photo by Ethan Wagner/U.S. Air Force

Dec. 14 (UPI) -- A test of a B-1B Lancer bomber demonstrated the plane's ability to carry and launch missiles externally, the U.S. Air Force said on Monday.

The "external weapon release demonstration" at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., on Dec. 4 followed a similar test in November. That demonstration included an inert Joint Air-to-Air Standoff Missile being carried, but not fired, beneath the fuselage of the aircraft.

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The December test suggests that all manner of heavy missiles, notably hypersonic missiles currently under development, could be fired from B-1Bs, Air Force officials have said.

"The Air Force Test Center is enthusiastically teaming with the Air Force Global Strike Command to enable greater flexibility in bomber payloads," Maj. Gen. Christopher Azzano, Air Force Test Center commander, said Monday in a press release.

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"Demonstration of B-1B external carriage reflects the potential to keep weapon systems in the fight with increased combat capability," Azzano said.

The test was part of an analysis of whether a B-1B, in service since the 1990s, is capable of externally firing large missiles, part of a plan to utilize current resources.

The plane used for the Dec. 4 demonstration, which is an element of the 419th Flight Test Squadron of the 412th Test Wing, was fitted with a modified external pylon that normally carries a Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, the most widely used combat-tested targeting pod currently in use.

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The test also required adjustments to the pod's electro-optical targeting system and other modifications before the missile was successfully launched.

"Arming a limited number of B-1s with more weapons externally could enable Global Strike Command to provide more weapons for geographic combatant commanders while putting fewer aircraft and aircrew in harm's way," said Gen. Tim Ray, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command.

"Airmen continue to rise to the challenge, modernizing, adapting and innovating the fleet we have while bridging to the fleet of the future," Ray said.

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The Air Force has 62 B-1Bs in service, and their use is expected into the 2030s.

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