US Air Force is planning to shift the airbed for testing of hypersonic missiles from the B-52 STRATOFORTRESS to the B-1 LANCER. As announced by Boeing, this may be possible thanks to the new pylon produced by the American company, known as Load Adaptable Modular (LAM), which can increase the B-1’s munition-carrying capacity by 50% for many existing weapons. In the last few years, the B-52 has been the testing air platform for the hypersonic AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), and someone was also expecting to see on it the pursuing Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile, an air-breathing cruise missile.
In accordance with Jennifer Wong, Boeing’s Director of bomber program, the LAM is not only the reason for the proposed “route change”: but because of all the modernization efforts on the B-52, USAF and Boeing can actually not take away from what they’re doing on the B-52 today to have it testing hypersonics. Indeed, the USAF has earmarked 8 B-52s to test engine, radar, weapons, and other upgrades, with other 10 to 12 more bombers on the way to be upgraded in the close future, which leaves only 56-58 of the 76 B-52s available for operations, creating a potential issue because the B-52 has a nuclear deterrence mission, while the B-1 does not.
The LAM development has been self-funded by Boeing and was designed to be rapidly reconfigurable to carry a variety of different new and existing weapons, up to 7,500 pounds (3,400 kg) per station. It will be possible thanks to its adjustable mounts and attach points that can be changed on the flight line to shift from one kind of weapon to another, “like Lego”, as humorously reported by Wong. The LAM is also planned to carry “some future concepts” involving hypersonics, not specifically reported by Boeing, and could be installed on the B-1’s external hardpoints, which were inactivated as part of the nuclear arms START treaty but are now possible considering Russian withdrawal from it. This will significantly increase the LANCER combat loadout up to 6 LAMs on external hardpoints as well as in its 2 bomb bays.
At this stage, the LAM will not fit the B-52 and, despite the USAF considering launching hypersonic weapons off the F-15EX’s centerline fuselage weapons station, the LAM will not fit the EAGLE II either.
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