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US Air Force begins retirement of B-1 bombers, paving way for B-21


In support of its efforts to modernize America’s bomber fleet, the Air Force will begin divesting 17  B-1B Lancers from its current fleet as authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act.

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US Air Force begins retirement of B 1 bombers paving way for B 21 01 B-1B Lancer (Picture source: US Air Force)


This action will not affect the service’s lethality or any associated maintenance manpower. It will allow officials to focus maintenance and depot-level manpower on the remaining aircraft, increasing readiness and paving the way for the bomber fleet modernization ready to meet future challenges.

“Beginning to retire legacy bombers, to make way for the B-21 Raider, is something we have been working toward for some time,” said Gen. Timothy Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command. “Due to the wear and tear placed on the B-1 fleet over the past two decades, maintaining these bombers would cost tens of millions of dollars per aircraft to get back to status quo. And that’s just to fix the problems we know about. We’re just accelerating planned retirements.”

The 17 B-1B aircraft will be retired from the current fleet of 62 B-1s, leaving 45 in the active fleet. Of the 17 B-1 aircraft, four will be required to remain in a reclaimable condition that is consistent with Type 2000 recallable storage.

Continuous combat operations over the last 20 years have taken a toll on the airframe’s structure. Currently, a small portion of the B-1Bs are in a state that will require approximately ten to thirty million dollars per aircraft to get back to a status quo fleet in the short term until the B-21 comes online.


US Air Force begins retirement of B 1 bombers paving way for B 21 03 A US Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber and a Qatari Mirage 2000 fly in formation, Feb. 19, 2019, during Joint Air Defense Exercise (Picture source: US Air Force)


Carrying the largest conventional payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force inventory, the multi-mission B-1 is the backbone of America's long-range bomber force. It can rapidly deliver massive quantities of precision and non-precision weapons against any adversary, anywhere in the world, at any time.

“Retiring aircraft with the least amount of usable life allows us to prioritize the health of the fleet and crew training,” Ray said. “Our ability to balance these priorities will make us more capable and lethal overall.”

With fewer aircraft in the B-1 fleet, maintainers will be able to give more time and attention to each aircraft.

“The divestiture of the B-1 is necessary in order for the Air Force to create an even more lethal, agile and sustainable force with a greater competitive edge for tomorrow’s fight,” Ray said.


US Air Force begins retirement of B 1 bombers paving way for B 21 02The B-21 bomber is a long range, highly survivable aircraft capable of penetrating and operating in future anti-access, area denial environments. The B-21 is expected to begin delivering initial capability in the mid-2020s.  (Picture source: Northrop Grumman)