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Bones and Bombs, 25 years since the B-1’s combat debut

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Hannah Malone
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

The B-1B Lancer made its historic combat debut 25 years ago, on Dec. 18, 1998, in support of Operation Desert Fox on Sheikh Isa Air Base in Bahrain. The four-day operation was conducted in response to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s failure to comply with United Nations resolutions and their interference with UNSCOM inspectors.

The 37th Bomb Squadron from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, and the 9th Bomb Squadron from Dyess AFB, Texas, working alongside the U.S. Navy and Royal Air Force F-14s, EA-6Bs, and F/A-18s, supplied four B-1s – a pair from each squadron - to execute the mission.

During the operation, crews dropped 188 MK-82 500-pound unguided bombs on the target, a total of 94,000 pounds of weaponry, all while the B-1s were taking on anti-aircraft artillery fire from the enemy. According to planners, the mission was a success, causing significant destruction of Iraqi military infrastructure and degradation of their missile development program.

During an interview recounting the mission, retired Col. John Martin, one of the 37th BS aviators for Desert Fox, stated, “It was a surreal moment. At the time, it was tough to grasp the importance of the mission. We just cranked the jets, blasted off, bared our fangs and put steel on target like we had trained to do so many times while at Ellsworth."

Since the historic combat debut, the B-1 has continued to support the freedoms of this country through various missions over the last 25 years. B-1 aviators have completed numerous CONUS-to-CONUS long duration sorties from one edge of the globe the other and been part of multiple historic bomber firsts such as landing in India and other countries to demonstrate support for our allies and to deter our adversaries. The B-1 has played a key role in operations Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Odyssey Dawn, and current Bomber Task Force missions across the globe.

Now, Ellsworth is preparing for another debut: the arrival of the first B-21 Raider. The aircraft is set to arrive in the mid-2020s and Ellsworth will be the first base to host America’s newest stealth bomber. As it has done for more than 35 years, Ellsworth will continue to be home to a fleet of B-1s. The B-1s will continue to provide long range strike capability and operate simultaneously when the B-21 Raider arrives.

“I always like to highlight that the B-1 was never asked to accomplish its designed mission of nuclear strike, thankfully,” said Col. Derek Oakley, 28th Bomb Wing commander. “Instead, we took the B-1 and modified it into a platform that has provided significant options for long range strike. Soon, we’ll have the luxury of taking the first B-21 and determining its future.”

The B-21 Raider will be a dual-capable penetrating strike stealth bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions. The B-21 will form the backbone of the future Air Force bomber force consisting of B-21s and B-52s. Designed to operate in tomorrow’s high-end threat environment, the B-21 will play a critical role in ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability.

“Ellsworth AFB has been supportive of our nation’s wars from World War II until today,” said Oakley. “It never surprises me that this installation has such a significant impact on multiple conflicts throughout the years. And you can be assured, we’ll be ready for the next one. Win Today, Dominate Tomorrow!”