Why U.S. B-52 Bombers Can Last 100 Years

Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
Militarymedia.net - According to the US Air Force's plans, the B-52 bomber will be operational until 2050, making it the first (and possibly the only aircraft) to remain in continuous operation for a hundred years.

What caused the B-52's longevity? Clearly, the Air Force's willingness to continue upgrading an airframe that was designed to last is a very important factor.

However, that was not all. Here's why the B-52 bomber was destined to outlive all the engineers who designed it, and most of the pilots who flew it.

The B-52s were assembled shortly after the successful strategic bombing campaign against Japan. Air Force planners wanted long-range combat aircraft that did not require a close base to complete their mission like the B-29s, which required a base in the Mariana Islands.

Today, a century later, US military planners are once again focused on the vast Pacific and the scarcity of bases available in its western region, as China becomes a major concern driving US national defense strategy.

The B-52's design gradually evolved during the initial design phase, becoming an eight-engine jet aircraft that could fly thousands of miles without refueling. Its range today is stated at 8,800 miles when traveling at 525 miles per hour with a 35 ton bomb payload, but can be refueled in the air to fly further.
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
Equipped with cruise missiles and other ammunition, it can strike targets anywhere in the world quickly from bases in the US. That is what makes long-range bombers different from other combat systems in the joint force.

But the B-52 didn't just have the ability to fly long distances and have a large payload. Unlike the B-1 Lancer (a supersonic bomber that first flew in 1974), the B-52 can carry out nuclear deterrence missions. Unlike the B-2 Spirit, which first flew in 1989, the B-52s were in sufficient numbers to defend conventional combat missions indefinitely against long-range enemies (there were only 20 B-2s in the fleet).

Long-range, nuclear, or conventional strike missions are only the beginning. In Afghanistan, B-52 crews demonstrated they can provide air support to ground troops using a wide range of precision-guided munitions.

They can also carry out maritime surveillance and naval control over large areas, laying mines if necessary, with two bombers covering 140,000 square miles of ocean in two hours. Their ability to stay on the air for long hours makes them prime candidates for electronic reconnaissance or interference in support of other forces.

Indeed, the B-52 bomber lacked stealth. However, these bombers were equipped with tools designed to thwart enemy attempts to target them.
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
The Air Force is currently planning to equip the B-52 with the long range standoff (LRSO) stealth capability Raytheon Technologies will build. The weapon will ease the challenge of penetrating the target's defenses.

With a range of 1,500 miles, the LRSO will keep the B-52 safe on nuclear deterrence missions for decades to come. The same weapon can be adapted for use in conventional (non-nuclear) missions if other standoff weapons prove inadequate to strike a variety of potential targets safely.

One of the reasons the Air Force intends to continue flying B-52s until 2050 is, most of the B-52s in the fleet are ready for combat in a short period of time. In 2019, the B-52's mission capability rate was 66 percent, far better than the 60 percent level of B-2 bombers, and far better than the 46 percent level of B-1 bombers.

The higher level of readiness coupled with the larger number of B-52s in the current troop, made the bulk of the long-range attack aircraft available for combat were B-52s.

This situation will not change. Air Force planners were unhappy with some of the features of the B-1 bomber since the aircraft first joined the force, particularly its electronic architecture for defending aircraft and carrying out assault missions.
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
The B-2 is by far the most stealthy bomber in the army, but the combination of the small number and complex maintenance procedures required to maintain its stealth features hampers its readiness. The Air Force has made great strides in strengthening the B-1 and B-2 grades, but not a single aircraft is likely to surpass the B-52's combat readiness.

Compared to the operating costs of other bombers, the B-52 was inexpensive. As David Ax reports in Forbes, “The B-52 is economical. It takes about US $ 70,000 to fly the B-52 for one hour. That's roughly the same as the B-1 cost for an hour's flight, and half the cost of the B-2. "

Ax predicts operating costs for the B-52 will fall as the bomber will be equipped with a new, more fuel-efficient engine in the future.

However, there is no guarantee the plane will be re-engineered. This possibility has emerged every decade since the Pratt & Whitney T33 turbofan made its debut on the "H" variant of the B-52 in 1961. Somehow, the Air Force never got around to buying the new engine.

Given the many pressures that are engulfing the federal budget, the current reengineering effort can work like previous initiatives. Fuel costs do not appear to be a major driver of future modernization decisions.

However, the B-52s were confirmed to remain in the heavy bomber fleet even as the other new bombers headed for the "airplane graveyard". After all these years, the US Air Force still can't live without it.
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