One of the reasons why the B-52s are still maintained, superior to the B-2 Spirit, is because of the US government’s erroneous decision.
During the past century, since the advent of the aircraft era, military aircraft has constantly evolved, becoming more and more modern and complex. America is one of the most active countries in the race to develop war machines. Along with intercontinental ballistic missiles, the B-52 strategic bomber is considered one of the weapons that shaped military technology during the Cold War.
A total of 744 B-52s were produced. Since its production in 1952, the B-52 has always played a role as the backbone of America’s global military might. It was a tool to intimidate the Soviet Union, present in the most fierce battlefields such as Vietnam, the Gulf, Kosovo, or Afghanistan. According to the US Air Force, B-52 bombers, which carried 40% of all ammunition, were dropped on the battlefield during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Most recently, the US Air Force still regularly uses the B-52 to carry out “assurance and deterrence missions” against North Korea or Iran. According to the US Air Force, it intends to use the B-52 at least until 2040.
Why is an old man like the B-52 is still trusted by the US Air Force when they have younger successors like the B-1 or the B-2?
The power of the B-52
In military history, there has been no aircraft in the world as long as the B-52. By comparison, the two B-52’s next-generation bombers, the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers, which started taking off in the 1980s, are all scheduled for retirement in the early 2030s, a decade earlier than originally planned, according to the US Air Force magazine. NASA’s Space shuttle retired in 2011, after 30 years of operation. The SR-71Blackbird, the star of the cold war, scouted over the Soviet Union several times, was laid off after 34 years of flight.
As the longest-serving aircraft in the US military, the B-52 Stratofortress has proven to be an extremely durable aircraft, developed by Boeing. It was a symbol of the strength of American industry. Taking a metal block weighing more than 221 tons off the runway was enough to make the world at that time in awe.
With a length of 48.5m (159 ft 4 in), a height of 12.4m (40 ft 8 in), a wingspan of 56.4m (185 ft), so far there has been no military aircraft of such a large size and payload.
Classified as a heavy, long-range, subsonic strategic bomber of the United States Air Force, the B-52 has undergone eight upgraded versions, marked from A to H.
Generations of the B-52
The B-52A was the first version, it was only used in testing, and there were only three. The first entered combat version was the B-52B, which entered service with the US Air Force in December 1954.
Versions C, D, E, F were developed at almost the same time, with significant improvements in payload, size, tactics and operational techniques. These versions were collectively referred to as the first generation B-52.
The second generation B52, included the last two versions G and H. The US Air Force focused on development and improvement in terms of operational techniques, optimizing carry-on munitions, and increasing fuel tank payload to have a longer range, meeting the demands of military modernization.
Accordingly, the most significant change on the B-52G version was the completely new “wet wings”. It had built-in fuel tanks, which significantly increase the fuel load. The overall weight of the aircraft was increased by 17.2 tons compared to previous versions.
Inheriting the advantages of the G version, the B-52H versions have replaced the J57 turbojet engine with the TF33-P-3 turbo-fan engine, which improves flight performance, saves fuel, and a larger range.
In terms of equipment, the electronic control system and the electronic countermeasures suite have been updated. A new fire control system was fitted. The rear machine gun was replaced with a 20 mm M61 Vulcan canon.
The B-52H is capable of carrying four AGM-48 Skybolt air-launched ballistic missiles and is also capable of launching AGM-28 Hound Dog air-launched cruise missile. Not stopping there, in 1971, the United States spent an additional $400 million to improve the G and H versions, making them capable of carrying 20 AGM-69 SRAM nuclear air-to-surface missile.
No one can doubt the strength of this threat, the B-52. In addition to carrying a huge volume of ammunition, state-of-the-art equipment, the B-52 also possesses admirable parameters.
It can reach a top speed of up to 1,047 km/h (650 mph), a combat radius of 7,210 km (3,890 nmi), a maximum range of 16,232 km (8,764 nmi) and a service ceiling of 15,000 m (50,000 ft).
Most notably, the ability to “carpet bombing”, causing terrible damage to the enemy. Throughout its history, the B-52 has achieved many important victories.
The B-52 was the “trump card” during the Cold War era. The Soviet Union repeatedly had to give in to its actions, due to the threat of nuclear-armed B-52s, patrolling around the Soviet horizon.
During the Gulf War, the B-52 brought into play its low-level and carpet bombing capabilities to suppress the enemy, paving the way for the coalition force’s airstrikes.
During Operation Desert Storm, the B-52 played a key role. Although not very destructive compared to other modern weapons. The conventional attacks of the B-52 were more effective because they were economical and quickly demoralize the Iraqi defenders.
The B-52 also contributed to the US victory in Operation Enduring Freedom, in 2001, Afghanistan. Thanks to its endurance, it can support ground attacks with precision-guided weapons, missions that were previously assigned only to fighters and attack aircraft.
The B-52 also played a key role in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. It supported US ground forces and carried out bombing missions.
The only failure of the B-52 was at the Vietnam war. As the US war in Southeast Asia escalated, the United States mobilized a huge air force to join the war, including hundreds of B52 bombers, mainly D and G generations. At the end of the war, the US announced that only 31 B-52s were damaged in Vietnam, but according to Vietnamese sources, only in the Operation Linebacker II, the number of B52s lost was 34.
Most first-generation versions were retired after 10 to 15 years of combat, a few were kept for training purposes. Two second generation versions, G and H, continue to be used by the US Air Force. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, all 365 B-52Gs were destroyed under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
The B-52 will remain in service for a long time
Today, only the B-52H version remains, they continue to rage in the sky at least until 2040. Basically, the B-52 is an efficient heavy bomber, it is much more economical than its successors, especially for the type of conflict against countries with limited air defense capabilities. The B-52 is also the most experienced of the three types of heavy bombers in service with the United States Air Force.
One of the reasons why the B-52s are still maintained, superior to the B-2 Spirit, is because of the US government’s erroneous decision. They bought only 20 instead of 132 B-2s as originally planned, said retired Air Force General David Deptula, the Dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies. The B-52s provided the United States with a sufficient number of heavy bombers, maintaining deterrent power.
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