There is some talk in Navy circles about taking the US Air Force B-1B Lancer when it retires at the end of the decade. The target of these patrol bombing squadrons, as envisioned, would be the People’s Republic of China’s Army’s Navy (PLAN). They’re rolling ships out like they plan to use them in a Navy war. It’s not just ships, it’s also.about destroying port facilities.

Naturally, the Air Force doesn’t like the idea of giving up the B-1B to the navy. “Better to scrap it,” is the USAF mantra. The Navy would be stepping on the Air Force’s toes…and the Space Force already has…and the Army wants the A-10 Warthog.

Fire on the Water was published in 2014. It is required reading in war colleges for its depiction of China’s naval expansion and its naval ambition (sort of the same thing).

The Chinese Plague has brought a realization of Modern China’s ruthless pursuit of its imperialistic goals. These don’t stop with the military invasion of Taiwan and the seizure of every oil asset irrespective of which nation owns/claims it.

Countering a 650 ship Chinese Navy with what assets the US is willing to put into the Pacific and Indian Oceans is an outsized proposition that allows China to concentrate forces while America’s are disbursed.

(A Bomber for the Navy, by: Will Spears and Ross Hobbs) This versatility is probably the B-1’s most compelling feature. Of all bombers in service, the B-1 doesn’t just carry the largest payload (75,000 pounds; the B-52 and B-2 carry 70,000 and 40,000 pounds respectively), but its repertoire of supported weapons and combat systems is among the most elaborate fielded by any aircraft today. Included are the aforementioned long-range standoff weapons (LRASM and JASSM), as well as GPS- and laser-guided JDAMs (GBU-31, 38, 54), unguided bombs and sea mines (Mk-82, 84, 62, 65), and a multitude of sensors including the Sniper targeting pod and a Synthetic Aperture Radar. It also features a powerful defensive avionics suite, capable of providing electronic countermeasures against advanced threat systems.

Some examples of potential Navy combat load-outs and mission sets are below. B-1 squadrons normally train to a minimum of two aircraft for a given mission, so the ordnance brought to bear would probably reflect some multiple of the following:

  • Sea Denial: 24 LRASM
  • A2/AD Rollback: 8 LRASM & 16 JASSM
  • Strategic Attack: 24 JASSM
  • Aerial Mine Laying: 84 Mk-62 or 12 Mk-65
  • Counter FAC/FIAC: 10 CBU-105D/B and 6 GBU-54
  • CAS for SOF/USMC: 8x GBU-31, 6x GBU-38, 6x GBU-54

How Much would it cost the Navy?

The B-1 requires 74 maintenance man-hours per flying hour (MMH/FH) with an estimated cost per flying hour of $70K (the B-52 also costs about $70K per flying hour, while the B-2 costs between $110K and $150K). Even if the B-1 fleet were reassigned to the Navy “free of charge,” it would be expensive. Would it be worth an aircraft carrier?


Arrangements could be made to base the Naval Air Fleet in Japan (which anticipates a war with China), Guam, Alaska and Australia (to control the Malacca Straits)

Two B-1B Lancers as Naval Strike Team

The Navy would have to sacrifice surface platforms for the expensive B-1B program. But what can sink more ships? (note that I didn’t say that the Navy should sacrifice submarines) What  create more artificial reefs in the South China Sea?

Would the Air Force go for it? Would the Navy go for it? What would the Armed Service Committees in Congress think? We need to think about countering Communist China on the high seas and there is no need to reinvent the wheel.


  1. The Navy could use a long-range bomber, but the B1B is just too old, worn out, and expensive to operate. The swing-wing joints are an especially tough maintenance issue.

    They’d possibly be better off buying into B-21. They could do the “Jointness” dance whenever USAF complained.

    • The B-21 cow would eat the fleet.

      The Navy could re-purpose a jet liner as a stand-off platform. Or just re-purpose a C-17. But they’re all lumbering without stealth capabilities.

  2. Or if they just wanted a non-AD-penetrating bomb/missile truck, they could weaponize an airliner, like they did with the Poseidon.


    • With the addition of the B-21 Raider, that would be FOUR strategic bombers. The USAF has indicated that it will only keep three, and the B-1 will be scrapped.

    • Based on my reading, the USAF has 62 B1-B aircraft in service. The Navy would need to decide how many it needs, and some of those sixty two could end up as donor aircraft. Parts are still being made for the B-1 fleet, so the Navy would simply need to keep those parts in production. They are expensive to keep in the air, and that price isn’t likely to drop. The cost of keeping a B-1B in the air has risen steadily about 2.5% per year. Essentially the cost of living.

  3. A bomber similar to the ‘Bone’ with more stealth and modern avionics/weapons etc. could be very useful in the western Pacific considering China’s continued naval expansion. A plane like that can go much faster than a B-52, carry FAR more payload than anything short of a B-52 and be more survivable than a B-52. And sadly as more and more time goes by it looks more and more like conflict with China is going to happen in some fashion. In reality we are already engaged in a
    form of quasi warfare that stands a good chance of going “hot”. But as has been stated the current B1B platform is pretty old, not very numerous and expensive to keep in the air…..not that expense has ever been a major issue for military systems. The real question is one of time. Do we have the time, the willingness and the ability to modernize, upgrade and make ready the forces that will face China….with the Navy likely being the number one branch if that happens. China is sure showing that THEY have the will and a plan to go with it.

    • The B-1B fleet is aging but it’s nothing like the B-52’s, which the USAF plans to keep in service, some of which have grandchildren of the original crew flying them. At $70K in maintenance for every flight hour, they should be able to fly almost indefinitely as the B-52’s have. And the B-1B is turn-key if the USAF releases them to the Navy, so the transition in terms of ramp-up curve would be very short. It’s more of a matter of training maintenance and flight crews and splashing a US Navy logo on them. Even assuming that the Navy only flew fifty of them, it could be a game changer in a Navy war with China.

  4. actually, while the BUFF is old, it does fulfill USN mission requirements if re-engined. no longer having to be a “penetrating bomber” it would have less stress on the airframe. the electronics could always be upgraded, it has no shortage of electrical power and has space for huge antenna arrays in the nose. active defensive systems(updated AIM-54 series and other systems spanning 100NM radius) can be accommodated and the entire idea of USN operating BUFFs as a maritime offensive/defensive platform has been thoroughly studied ad nauseum in the 1970s.
    But none of that would ever happen. USN is the originator of the NIH syndrome. the ring knockers have their heads up and locked in their butts just like their buddies in the Air Force and Army. I imagine if the Peoples Navy ever makes it into the one fathom line along the US coasts, the Coasties will rip them a new asshole.

    • As I understand it, the USAF doesn’t plan to scrap the B-52’s, just the B-1. Either would work fine for the naval mission. The cost per flight hour is close.

      Whether the stars would go for it or not is another question.

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