US Reportedly Plans to Use Ageing B-1 Strategic Bombers Against Russian Ships in Black Sea
17:13 GMT 28.10.2021 (Updated: 14:11 GMT 04.11.2021)
The Pentagon has yet to build the replacement strategic bombers, but has already started to train the crews of the ageing aircraft for a new role, a media outlet has claimed.
The US Air Force has been planning to retire its 40-year-old B-1 bombers for some time now: first, they were stripped of their nuclear capability, and now they are set to be replaced by a new generation of stealth bomber – the B-21. It will take years to build a full replacement fleet of B-21s, but the Pentagon has already started to mothball the B-1, business magazine Forbes has revealed.
But the bombers won't go to the scrapyard just yet – instead they and their crews will be trained and armed to take on Russian warships, specifically the ones sailing in the Black Sea, the journal said. Forbes indicated that these bombers have been actively used in drills in this region lately.
Several B-1s from the 7th Bomb Wing flew on the 12-hour mission from the Royal Air Force base at Fairford on 19 October, reaching the North Sea and then travelling all the way to the Black Sea.
The former strategic bomber has a 5,000-mile (8,000 kilometres) range and can carry 25 tonnes of payload. This payload might include 24 new Long-Range Anti-Ship missiles (LRASM), Forbes suggests - a stealth missile designed to strike ships as far away as 300 miles (480km). The journal claims that a pair of B-1s could potentially kill Russia’s Baltic Fleet.
The latter, however, is not guaranteed. Although the missile has stealth coating and a decent range of 300 miles, there is no guarantee it won't be taken down by the air defences - Russia's internationally recognised speciality. The AGM-158C LRASM's range is only slightly outside the maximum operational range of the S-400 air defence system, but is well within the range of S-500s, which have already started to make an appearance in the Russian military. The latter could potentially take down a B-1 even before it fires its deadly missile, if one such system is installed onshore to cover the fleet.
Furthermore, the Russian Navy possesses ship-based analogues of S-350 and S-400 air defence systems, which are declared to be capable of detecting stealth targets, for example, a newer generation of bombers – B-21s. The on-ship version of S-500 is also in development and will probably possess an even greater ability to detect stealth targets, as well as the ability to intercept hypersonic missiles (if the US finally develops one for its Air Force). In addition, most of the Russian warships are equipped with jamming projectiles A3-CP-52 and A3-CO-52, although it is unclear whether they can trick the anti-jamming systems of the AGM-158C LRASM.