The Rockwell (now part of Boeing) B-1 Lancer is a strategic bomber used by the United States Air Force. First envisioned in the 1960s as a supersonic bomber with sufficient range and payload to replace the B-52 Stratofortress, it developed primarily into a low-level penetrator with long range and supersonic speed capability. Its development was stopped and restarted multiple times over its history, as the theory of strategic balance changed from flexible response to mutually assured destruction and back again. It eventually entered service more than 20 years after first being studied. The B-1B production version has been in service with the United States Air Force (USAF) since 1986. The Lancer serves as the supersonic component of the USAF's long-range bomber force, along with the subsonic B-52 and B-2 Spirit.
Rockwell B-1B Lancer
Although officially named the "Lancer", B-1 crews almost never refer to the aircraft by this name. Crews prefer to call the B-1 the "Bone". Origins of the "Bone" nickname are disputed, but appear to stem from an early newspaper article about the aircraft wherein its name was phonetically spelled out as "B-ONE" and inadvertently omitted the hyphen. Crews, who generally felt the "Lancer" moniker was unappealing, quickly latched onto the "Bone" nickname.
Operationally, the B-1 was first used in combat in support of operations against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, employing unguided general purpose weapons. B-1s have been subsequently used in Operation Allied Force (Kosovo) and most notably in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In both conflicts, the B-1 employed its full array of conventional weapons. The B-1 now fills an important niche in the Air Force inventory. The project finished on budget, and the B-1 has higher survivability and speed when compared to the older B-52, which it was intended to replace. With the arrival of limited numbers of B-2s in the 1990s and the continuing use of B-52s, its value has been questioned. However, the capability of a high-speed strike with a large bomb payload for time-sensitive operations is useful, and no new strategic bomber is on the immediate horizon.