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No decision has yet been announced, and there's always a chance the service is bluffing. After all, news of the B-1 early retirement first cropped up in a blog maintained by Air Force magazine, an independent publication whose interests still tend to be pretty much in sync with those of the Air Force itself.
As the B-1 nears its 25th anniversary, a new chapter could be opening up for the bomber with an even more precise weapon, the airborne laser. The Air Force's chief scientist, Dr. Werner Dahm, flew on a Lancer recently to see if the crew could operate an airborne laser platform in the tightly spaced cockpit while continuing to do their duties. The laser is capable of precision targeting and minimizes unintended damage when the enemy places hostile networks near schools and mosques. The Lancer could be looking at a prototype laser by 2014.
General David Petraeus - the famous US officer who oversaw the "surge" in Iraq and is now set to take over the war in Afghanistan - has delivered a stinging bitchslap to the US Air Force's fleets of heavy manned bombers. Petraeus says that a mighty 200 tonne, quarter-billion-dollar B-1 "Lancer" is "almost" as good as having a much cheaper unmanned aircraft.