Could the B-1 Bomber Become a Close Air Gunship?

While the possibility of the B-1 Lancer being transformed into the next gunship isn’t breaking news, the concept has at least had some consideration at Boeing, with a patent granted in 2018. The potential gunship modification for the B-1B, if executed, would make the Lancer similar to the AC-130 Spectre gunship with its 20, 25, or 30mm cannons, albeit a much faster version.


Boeing’s patent, US 9,963,231 B2, depicts several variations on what the new armament could look like.  Each version appears to utilize the Lancer’s current mounting points for the rotary payload system for explosive ordnance, which would allow the gunship modules to be used in any of the three bomb bays. One possibility shows several completely exposed, rotatable cannons that would extend from the payload bay doors, slightly resembling the AH-64 Apache helicopter’s main 30mm cannon. Another option shown in the patent is a more recessed design, in which, up to four cannons mounted side-by-side would be exposed just enough when the bay door is opened slightly to fire on targets below. The latter version also shows the side-by-side cannons having about a 20-degree allowance for horizontal (fore and aft) movement.

The following images are from the patent:

B-1B Lancer bomber used as a gunship
B-1B bomber as a gunship
Gunship in the form of a B-1 bomber
Gunship in the form of a B-1B Lancer
B-1B Lancer with gunship configuration

The video below is from the US Defense Tech YouTube channel.  The video, despite its terrible computerized voiceover features some great footage of the B-1B’s payload bays while it discusses some of the problems that have plagued the B-1 program, including the worst flight time to maintenance hours in the U.S. inventory.

You can find the patent information as well as a downloadable PDF HERE.

Since 2008, however, B-1s have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan for armed overwatch. loitering for surveillance purposes, aided by its 5,900 mile range, in this role it can while deliver guided munitions to support ground forces. Perhaps this use spurred Boeing to investigate mounting cannons as a cheaper option than using expensive guided ordnance.

The B-1B Lancer does not seem to be an obvious platform for a gunship with a max speed of 700mph at altitudes below 500ft. The systems proposed would also seem to pose considerable maintenance complications and longer periods.

With the USAF’s B1 inventory struggling with reliability issues and maintain readiness the latest 2021 Air Force budget appears to call for the scrapping of upto 60 B1s. This is part of a program to rebalance the fleet and shift focus over the next five years to building new capabilities. A gun-armed B1 is probably not high on the USAF’s list of priorities at the moment.

This article was written by Doug E. and originally posted at TFB, additional words by Matthew Moss.