Based on the images released by the flying branch so far, the 6o years old aircraft have flown with the underwing pylons loaded with two types of JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions): the 500-lb laser-guided GBU-54s and the 2,000-lb GPS-guided GBU-31V3 “bunker busters” onto the Heavy Stores Adaptor Beam pylons.
A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress refuels from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Feb. 15, 2017. The 340th EARS extended the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists by delivering fuel to U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and a B-52 Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)
One of the most common loadout includes 3x GBU-31s and 8x GBU-54s along with PGMs carried inside the bomb bay of the B-52H Stratofortress. With the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade the Buffs can carry up to 16 external laser JDAMs (8 per pylon) as well as 8 internal J-series weapons mounted on a conventional rotary launcher.
Such “mixed” PGM configuration provide the aircraft the ability to deliver “kinetic” attacks engaging both stationary and moving ground targets with reduced collateral damage (using the GBU-54s, that combines 500-lb Mk-82 warhead and the precision strike capability delivered by its dual Laser/GPS mode guidance system) as well as concrete shelters and hardened targets by means of the GBU-31s that use the BLU-109 forged steel penetrator warhead.
According to the U.S. Air Force, the B-52 will be constantly upgraded so that it will be able to internally carry eight joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, as well as a variety of miniature air-launched decoys. It will also have the option of carrying up to 12 extended-range JASSM-ERs on the external pylons for a total capacity of 20 of these advanced, stealthy cruise missiles.
Until the venerable B-52 is replaced by the recently announced B-21 Raider, the B-52 is projected to continue operations until at least 2040 thanks to a series of constant upgrades that will facilitate the Stratofortress flying into is 90th year.
The current “H” model is indeed much different from the early B-52 that flew for the first time in 1952. It currently features multi-function digital display screens, computer network servers and real-time communication uplinks with Internet access.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Ben, left, and Capt. Justin, right, 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron pilots, takeoff to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Feb. 13, 2017. The B-52 Stratofortress enables vital kinetic capability for the U.S. Air Force and is actively engaged in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)
A USAF Stratofortress bomber lost one of its 8 engines 25 miles to the northeast of Minot AFB, North Dakota. Type to re-engine the Buff?
On Jan. 4, 2017, in a quite unusual incident, a B-52H belonging to the 5th Bomb Wing lost one Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofan engine shortly after take off from Minot AFB, North Dakota.
According to DefenseNews, that broke the news, the aircraft, one of the 76 “Buffs” still in service with the U.S. Air Force, was flying a training mission with 5 crew members; the engine fell in an unpopulated area without causing damage on the ground and a UH-1N Huey helicopter was dispatched to the site for a survey.
Few details are available at the moment as the U.S. Air Force investigates the root cause of the issue.
For instance, it’s still not clear whether a single engine or an entire nacelle pod (housing two TF-33 engines) attached to one of the four underwing pylons detached from the plane. Anyway, the aircraft managed to return safely to Minot: the loss of one (or even two on the same pod) is not a big deal for an aircraft powered by 8 engines.
Nevertheless, the incident is likely to fuel debate about the B-52’s engine program. With a +60 year-long career, the B-52 is a still quite advanced and heavily weaponized “dinosaur” expected to remain in service until something around 2040, when it will be fully replaced by the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider.
Various options are known to have been considered so far, including an upgrade for the current TF-33 engines or their replacement with a different type: the Pratt PW2000 or other potential substitutes pitched by General Electric and Rolls-Royce that are likely to respond an eventual flying branch’s RFP.
Anyway it’s not the first time some part detaches from a U.S. Air Force aircraft mid-air: on Nov. 1, 2016, a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender aerial refueler belonging to the 60th Air Mobility Wing was forced to perform an emergency landing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, after losing its flying boom that fell in a hay-field.
The AGM-86B nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile was tested by the Air Force Global Strike Command’s 2nd Bomb Wing and Air Combat Command’s 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron recently.
The U.S. Air Force tested the ability of its strategic bomber force to configure, load, fly and deliver an unarmed version of the AGM-86B nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile.
The AGM-86B is a standoff weapon designed to be launched from outside of a combat area, allowing aircrews to accurately strike distant targets without exposing themselves to enemy fire.
Powered by a turbofan jet engine that propels it at sustained subsonic speeds, the relatively small missile deploys wings, tail surfaces and engine inlet after launch.
It’s able to fly complicated routes to a target through use of a terrain contour-matching guidance system. The AGM-86C/D CALCM (Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles), that carries a conventional blast/fragmentation payload instead of nuclear payload, uses an onboard Global Positioning System coupled with its INS (inertial navigation system) to fly.
B-52H bombers carry six AGM-86B/C/D missiles on each of two externally mounted pylons and eight internally on a rotary launcher, giving the B-52H a maximum capacity of 20 missiles per aircraft.
AGM-86B launched by a B-52H (U.S. Air Force file photo)
As part of the Nuclear Weapon Systems Evaluation Program, or NucWSEP, “a stockpile-to-target evaluation of a nuclear weapon system designed to provide U.S. Strategic Command valuable data used in deciding stockpile requirements and for operational planning” the U.S. Air Force launched the long-range standoff weapon from a B-52 bomber.
To make it simple, in order to validate that the U.S. deterrence force is safe, secure and reliable round-the-clock, the Air Force Global Strike Command conducts periodic evaluations where 49th TES (Test and Evaluation Squadron) personnel and front-line unit perform an end-to-end assessment of the bomber force weapon delivery capabilities.
The process to conduct such a weapons test takes months
“After the 2nd BW was selected to perform the NucWSEP, 2nd Munitions Squadron Airmen got to work. A primary and back-up missile were randomly selected from the stockpile and checked to ensure that all test requirements were up-to-date,” , says an Air Force release.
“Once the missiles had been validated, they were loaded onto a Common Strategic Rotary Launcher and prepared for the mission. The 49th TES then installed instrumentation equipment into both the primary and secondary missiles.”
“After all the items were installed and the tests completed, the launchers were loaded onto two B-52 Stratofortresses by a certified weapons load team. After takeoff, the aircrew flew the B-52 to the Utah Test and Training Range and launched the weapon, striking the target.”
For one week U.S. Air Force’s Southern Command undertook a surge of its operations against the trafficking of illicit drugs into the United States, using bombers flying as NTISR (non-traditional intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) aircraft.
U.S. Southern Command oversees an area covering more than 40 million square miles, a region whose major challenge is the war against trafficking of illicit drugs into the US.
For one week in August 2016, the Southern Command surged its anti-drug smuggling operations with bombers, KC-135 aerial refuelers, E-8 Joint STARS (Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) and E-3 Sentry AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft that expanded their work supporting the United States Coast Guard and the JIATF-South (Joint Inter Agency Task Force South), the U.S. agency leading the fight against narco-traffickers.
Dubbed the “Big Week”, the operation saw the involvement of B-1 Lancers and B-52 Stratofortresses that were assigned the difficult task of flying over large areas of the ocean in search of suspected trafficker boats acting as non-traditional Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (NTISR) platforms.
The heavy bombers contributed to the surveillance mission sharing the data collected by the targeting systems and onboard sensors with multiple Naval-Coast Guard assets, something they usually don’t train too often.
Still, NTISR is a sort-of secondary mission for all the U.S. bombers performing on-call CAS (Close Air Support) in Afghanistan or Iraq, where they augment traditional ISR efforts by means of their targeting pods with downlink capabilities.
The operation resulted in six metric tons of cocaine seized or disrupted, illegal drug which never made it into the United States.
Stratotankers were important to expand Big Week’s operational reach keeping Air Force bombers in the air and adding critical hours to the surveillance mission, whereas intelligence personnel provided the required informational flow between aircraft, maritime, and intelligence assets so that, once detected, drugs could be taken off the water.
Big Week allowed the joint interdiction team to test their training in a real-world environment, cooperating with agencies and in a scenario and area they don’t typically operate out of.
According to the U.S. Air Force”Big Week was a vast operation, meant to show how members of different agencies and services could operate in a joint environment against a common threat. Big Week proved that a determined and organized drug interdiction team could effectively challenge illicit drug trafficking into the United States.”
Watch this stunning footage of a B-1B bomber deployed to Europe thundering out of RAF Fairford for an Ample Strike familiarization flight.
Two B-1B Lancer bombers belonging to the 7th Bomb Wing, Dyess Air Base, Texas, Air Force Global Strike Command, deployed to RAF Fairford to take part in Ex. Ample Strike 16.
Ample Strike is an annual Czech Republic-led exercise with 300 participants from 18 countries scheduled underway from Sept. 5 to 16. of responsibility today to join the B-52 Stratofortress, which arrived Aug. 30 at RAF Fairford, United Kingdom.
The two “Bones” have joined the B-52 which arrived in the UK on Aug. 30.
The following clip shows one of the B-1s, 85-0089, launching from Fairford on Sept. 4, under the radio callsign “Crook 01”.