Boeing Co. has been granted a patent that would help the B1 Lancer take on an additional role of close-air support. Boeing is exploring the possibility of mounting different types of weapons systems on the B1. Those may include chain guns, auto cannons, rail guns, projectile firing devices, or even laser weapons. Unlike typical projectile firing weapon systems, with barrels that protrude from the aircraft decreasing lift and increasing drag, the new patent’s design would allow the weapon systems to retract into the belly of the aircraft. This would allow the aircraft to operate at supersonic speeds when the weapons system is retracted. Oriana Pawlyk of Military.com writes:
The company is exploring the possibility of mounting different types of weapons. “A weapon may include or correspond to a machine gun, a chain gun, a cannon, an autocannon, a rail gun, a projectile firing device, or a laser weapon,” the patent states.
“By mounting the weapons system within a weapons bay, the aircraft may operate at supersonic speeds when the weapons system is retracted, extended, or both,” it continues. “By including a weapons system on board an aircraft, functionality of the aircraft may increase and the aircraft may gain additional capabilities. For example, a bomber may be able to provide close-air support or better support ground troops.”
Experts say the proposed enhancement may be speaking to what troops on the ground really want: air support with eyes on the target.
This “really seems to go back to the ground forces not trusting precision-guided munitions,” said one defense analyst in Washington, D.C.
“The whole argument in favor of the A-10 is that the ground forces want whoever is providing fire to have eyes on the target,” the source told Military.com on background Wednesday.
“They don’t trust that a precision-guided weapon from a Reaper [drone], F-16, B-1 or whatever is going to hit the right target at the right time and not hit them. They want guns with the operators overhead,” the expert said.
The source cited a June 9, 2014, incident in Afghanistan in which a B-1 crew dropped two 500-pound bombs overtop of five U.S. soldiers and one Afghan soldier near Arghandab. The soldiers, including two Green Berets, died in the accident.
“The Air Force sees a future where they’re just putting weapons on specified coordinates. The ground folks have no confidence in that,” the expert said.
The B-1 community has recently highlighted how the long-range bomber can support a CAS mission.