Will The B-1 Bomber Become The Next Gunship For Close Air Support?

    Gunship modification of B-1B Lancer Bomber

    Image of B-1 Lancer from Wikipedia.org

    While the possibility of the B-1 Lancer being transformed into the next gunship isn’t breaking news, the concept is at least being considered, since Boeing was granted a patent in 2018.  The potential gunship modification for the B-1B, if executed, would make the Lancer similar to the AC-130 Spectre gunship with its 20, 25, or 30mm cannons, albeit a much faster version.


    Boeing’s patent, number US 9,963,231 B2, depicts several variations on what the new armament could look like.  Each version appears to utilize the Lancer’s current mounting points for the rotary payload system for explosive ordnance, which would allow the gunship modules to be used in any of the three bomb bays. One possibility shows several completely exposed, rotatable cannons that would extend from the payload bay doors, slightly resembling the AH-64 Apache helicopter’s main 30mm cannon. Another option shown in the patent is a more recessed design, in which, up to four cannons mounted side-by-side would be exposed just enough when the bay door is opened slightly to fire on targets below. The latter version also shows the side-by-side cannons having about a 20-degree allowance for horizontal (fore and aft) movement.

    The following images are from the patent:

    B-1B Lancer bomber used as a gunship

    B-1B bomber as a gunship

    Gunship in the form of a B-1 bomber

    Gunship in the form of a B-1B Lancer

    B-1B Lancer with gunship configuration

    The video below is from the US Defense Tech YouTube channel.  The video, through its terrible computerized voiceover shows some great footage of the B-1B’s payload bays while it discusses some of the problems that have plagued the B-1 program, including the worst flight time to maintenance hours in the U.S. inventory.

    You can find the patent information as well as a downloadable PDF HERE.

    The B-1B Lancer is one of my favorite bombers, and I typically don’t mind the thought of guns being mounted to anything and everything. However, I won’t be the one maintaining the aircraft or this potential cannon system, nor am I an aeronautical weapons expert. What do you think of the proposed gunship conversion for the B-1 Lancer? Do you think it has merit, or should the gunship role be left to other aircraft for close air support?

    Doug E

    Doug has been a firearms enthusiast since age 16 after getting to shoot with a friend. Since then he’s taken many others out to the range for their first time. He is a husband, father, grandfather, police officer, outdoorsman, artist and a student of history. Doug has been a TFB reader from the start and is happy to be a contributor of content. Doug can be reached at battleshipgrey61 AT gmail.com, or battleshipgrey61 on Instagram.