The 419th Flight Test Squadron successfully conducted an external weapon release demonstration at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, Dec 4.
“The Air Force Test Center is enthusiastically teaming with the Air Force Global Strike Command to enable greater flexibility in bomber payloads,” said Maj. Gen. Christopher Azzano, Air Force Test Center commander. “Demonstration of B-1B external carriage reflects the potential to keep weapon systems in the fight with increased combat capability.”
A B-1B Lancer assigned to the 412th Test Wing’s 419th FLTS, launched an inert Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile from an external pylon underneath the Lancer’s fuselage. The external pylon usually carries the “Sniper” targeting pod.
This release demonstration also put Air Force Global Strike Command one step closer to building the future bomber fleet for the Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force while utilizing current resources.
“Arming a limited number of B-1s with more weapons externally, could enable Global Strike Command to provide more weapons for Geographic Combatant Commanders while putting fewer aircraft and aircrew in harm’s way,” said Gen. Tim Ray, Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command. “Airmen continue to rise to the challenge, modernizing, adapting and innovating the fleet we have while bridging to the fleet of the future.”
“A targeting pod pylon was modified mechanically to allow for different connector configurations, and the internal wiring was replaced with harnesses that would support its new role,” explained N. Keith Maynard, 812th Airborne Instrumentation Test Squadron.
Maynard serves as the Special Instrumentation (SI) Flight Chief, leading a group of more than 60 engineers, technicians, project managers and logisticians.
“Although the modification required to reassign one of the internal weapon stations to the external location was well within our capability, it wasn’t part of our normal charter of data acquisition,” Maynard said. “Regardless, we jumped on the opportunity to help our customer and immediately assisted with the planning and provisioning and, when approved to do so, executed the modifications to the pylon and aircraft.”
The flight culminates the B-1B expanded carriage demonstration that began with a modified internal bomb bay demo in 2019. “Box drop” ground tests were conducted in October 2020 to verify the mechanical modifications to the pylon. A captive carry flight then took place in November which helped set up the external release mission.
“In this case the Air Force Seek Eagle Office (AFSEO) performed modeling of the separation characteristics and determined that the JASSM separation from the B-1B pylon should replicate the normal JASSM control surface deployment timeline that occurs when launched from the Left Pylon station 2 of the B-52H,” said Agustin Martinez, 419th FLTS. “The prior captive carry flight verified that the JASSM received the correct information in order for it to follow the B-52H surface deployment timeline.”
The orifice settings and cartridges used for the MAU-12 Ejector Rack Assembly also ensured that the JASSM would separate with a nose-down pitch moment, which was confirmed during the box drop test earlier this year, Martinez added.
However, there is no substitute for physically releasing a JASSM while in-flight said Cory Coffman, Operations Engineer and Test Conductor, 419th FLTS.
“I’d say it’s pretty important,” he said. “Flight testing is a unique environment; ground tests and simulation are great, but there’s no alternative to flight test.”
To aid engineers in acquiring valuable weapon release data and characteristics, the B-1B Lancer was outfitted with the high-speed cameras able to capture up to 500 frames per second.
“The most important product for this specific mission is excellent imagery of the release from multiple angles to not only verify safe separation but to provide information about the weapon itself, like fin deployment,” Maynard said.
He explained that along with modification of the production weapons release systems, his team reconfigured the new digital high speed camera system installed on the aircraft, which was used to support the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).
The successful demonstration highlights a possible weapons configuration that may be implemented on the B-1B. External pylons were originally designed for use on the B-1s but were later scrapped to comply with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). However, the return to use of external hard points would not violate the New START agreement. Planned implementation, if any, of the B-1B’s expanded carriage demonstration would also not alter plans for the 17 Lancers already requested for retirement.
“AFTC has a long history of certifying external carriage weapons. While this type of testing is far from routine, our testers are the best in the world at managing operational and technical risk to deliver increased combat capability,” Azzano said. “I’m confident our multi-discipline teams will meet the requirements for future stores—including hypersonic weapons—while increasing operational flexibility of the bomber fleet.”
For Maynard, the successful weapon drop demonstration also had a personal significance.
“I started my B-1 career in April 1986 after separation from active duty Air Force. During that timeframe, the Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) testing was winding down and aircraft production was at full rate,” Maynard said. “For me personally, it was a full circle of almost 35 years and culminated in a very rewarding day, today.”
During an era of great power competition, innovative approaches like this demonstration are necessary for Air Force success.
“I’m incredibly proud of our engineers, maintainers and Airmen across the force who made this demonstration happen,” Ray added. “For decades, the team at Edwards Air Force Base has contributed so much to innovation, test, and the future of flight for our Air Force.”