The Rockwell B-1 Lancer is a four-engine, variable-sweep wing strategic bomber used by the United States Air Force (USAF). First envisioned in the 1960s as a supersonic bomber with sufficient range and payload to replace the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, it developed primarily into a low-level penetrator with long range and supersonic speed capability.
Designed by Rockwell International, the bomber’s development was delayed multiple times over its history, as the theory of strategic balance changed from flexible response to mutually assured destruction and back again. The initial B-1A version was developed in the early 1970s, but its production was canceled and only four prototypes were built. In 1980, the B-1 resurfaced as the B-1B version with the focus on low-level penetration bombing. The B-1B entered service with the USAF in 1986. It began service with the USAF Strategic Air Command as a nuclear bomber.
In the 1990s, the B-1B was converted to conventional bombing use. It was first used in combat during Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and during the NATO action in Kosovo the following year. The B-1B continues to support U.S. and NATO military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Lancer is the supersonic component of the USAF’s long-range bomber force, along with the subsonic B-52 and Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit. The bomber is commonly called the “Bone” (originally from “B-One”). With the retirement of the General Dynamics/Grumman EF-111A Raven in 1998 and the Grumman F-14 Tomcat in 2006, the B-1B is the U.S. military’s only active variable-sweep wing aircraft. The B-1B is expected to continue to serve into the 2020s, when it is to supplemented by the Next Generation Bomber.