The US conducted retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria last week.
The strikes involved B-1B bombers from the US and fighter jets from the Middle East region.
A retired US Air Force colonel said the B-1Bs sent a powerful message to America’s adversaries.
It’s a long way to go from Texas to the airspace above Iraq and back to base, but it’s a mission the B-1B Lancer can handle. And last week, the supersonic bomber did just that.
The B-1Bs joined fighter jets from US Central Command, or CENTCOM, to conduct the widespread strikes against Iranian-backed targets on Feb. 2. The choice to include them in the strikes likely includes their massive payload capacity and the drive to reduce the munitions used by jets and warships in theater, which have carried out the strikes so far.
I’m not surprised that the B-1s were chosen,” Mark Gunzinger, a former command pilot who logged over 3,000 hours in the B-52 Stratofortress, told Business Insider. “The B-1 force is highly experienced at conducting attacks against those kinds of targets.”
The B-1B aircraft and their crews hail from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, but an investigation into a crash that happened there earlier this year forced their relocation to Dyess Air Force Base in Texas — the staging area for last week’s operation.
The bombers took off from Dyess and flew nonstop to the Middle East. There, alongside CENTCOM’s fighter jets, they dropped more than 125 precision-guided munitions over a 30-minute period and struck more than 85 Iran-linked targets across multiple facilities in Iraq and Syria, before returning to the US.
The strikes came in retaliation for drone attack that killed three American troops in Jordan last month.
Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, the director of the Joint Staff, told reporters after the military action that the B-1Bs enabled the US to hit back against the Iran-backed forces at a time of its choosing and with a “significant” number of munitions. The aircraft demonstrated that the Pentagon doesn’t need to bring extra capabilities to the Middle East when it can just carry out strikes from US-based aircraft, he added.
Considered to be the “backbone” of the US military’s long-range bomber force, the B-1B can carry the largest conventional payload — 75,000 pounds — of guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force’s inventory, the service says in a fact sheet.
Armaments include 2,000-pound general purpose bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM). The aircraft can travel at speeds of over 900 mph and reach a ceiling of more than 30,000 feet during intercontinental missions.
Gunzinger, who is now the director of future concepts and capability assessments at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, said the B-1B’s payload capacity and robust arsenal of weaponry made it an ideal choice for last week’s strikes. There’s also the capacity angle, he said; it would take multiple fighter jets to strike the same number of targets that a single bomber could hit.
Targets hit in Iraq and Syria last week included command and control centers, intelligence buildings, weapons storage locations, and ammunition supply chain facilities. If the B-1Bs have the right weapons to go after these specific targets, that also makes the aircraft an optimal choice for the mission, and can help conserve US munitions stockpiles already in the Middle East region.
But there’s a messaging element to it as well: the B-1Bs demonstrate that the US can strike any adversary without advanced air defenses on the planet, in defense of its personnel or allies, right from the homeland. However, the B-1B lacks the stealth needed to go up against rivals like Iran with surface-to-air missile batteries.
By using the B-1B, the Pentagon doesn’t have to generate sorties from overseas bases, Gunzinger said.
“We can do it from the United States and we can do it, if necessary, within hours because of what bombers bring to the mix,” he noted, adding that the aircraft is a “powerful deterrent” that shows America’s enemies they can be hit hard without warning.
“We don’t have to deploy our forces abroad and bed them down, and that information leaks out,” Gunzinger said. “We can generate sorties in the middle of Texas and literally, within half a day, it’ll be over targets.”
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