Recently, a B-1B Lancer took part in Vigilant Ace 18, a massive U.S.-South Korea joint air exercise. According to FoxNews.com, the Lancer simulated strikes in the eastern part of the country, which drew the expected condemnation from North Korea.
This is not the first time this year that B-1s have participated in drills on the peninsula. Similar exercises took place in May and July. North Korea blustered then, too. So, why are the B-1Bs such a big deal to the belligerent state?
A B-1B Lancer releases its payload. There's a lot of bombs there. (USAF photo by Steve Zapka.)
Maybe the North Koreans know that, despite what they tell people about Kim Jong Un, there's no way he can keep the Lancer from inflicting a lot of hurt. You see, next to the A-10, the B-1B Lancer could possible be the most effective weapon against North Korea's army. GlobalSecurity.org estimates North Korea has over 3,500 main battle tanks and 560 light tanks.
A North-Korean-built M-1978 KOKSAN displayed at the Al Anbar University campus in Ramadi, Iraq is to be removed by U.S. Forces. (USMC photo)
But the B-1B Lancer has a way of dealing with a lot of tanks: It's called the CBU-97. This is the weapon that enables the Lancer to protect the Baltics from Russian aggression. A B-1B can carry up to 30 of these internally, plus at least 14 more on rarely-used, external pylons.
CBU-105 at the Textron Defense Systems's trade booth, Singapore Airshow 2008 in Changi Exhibition Centre. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Here's a little math: Each CBU-97 has 10 BLU-108 submunitions, each with four "skeets" that fire an explosive projectile capable of going through the top of an enemy tank. A single B-1B carrying 30 of these can, therefore, deliver 1,200 "skeets" in one sortie. Each B-1B Lancer has the potential firepower to handle about 30 percent of North Korea's tank force.
A CBU-87 Combined Effects Munition cluster bomb equipped with the Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser Kit. This is called the CBU-103. (US Air Force photo)
And you can safely bet it wouldn't be just a single B-1B. Other B-1B Lancers might carry CBU-89 cluster bombs, which dispense GATOR mines in a mix of anti-tank and anti-personnel varieties. Others still might the CBU-87 cluster bomb, containing 202 BLU-97 bomblets. The fact is, North Korea's army is primarily made up of massed ground forces — the kind of target that cluster bombs are really good at dealing with.
It makes sense that North Korea fears the Lancer. Especially since Secretary of Defense James Mattis just decided that the United States wasn't going to give up cluster bombs after all.