The B-52 Bomber is one of the most durable, long-range subsonic bomber designs from the Cold War and is still being used to this day in counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The B-52 joined the USAF in 1956 and was first deployed during President John F. Kennedy’s time in office. The Bomber first served in Vietnam, bombing targets in North Vietnam as well as the Vietcong and Laos.

During the Cold War, the B52 was part of the Strategic Air Command and during a potential nuclear war, would carry out nuclear strikes against targets in the Soviet Union. The B-52 was part of America’s nuclear deterrence.

However, it has also served in a conventional capacity, notably during ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’, there were scenes of B-52 Bombers unleashing their deadly payload striking targets deep in enemy territory.

The high-altitude long-range Bomber was used in Operation Desert Storm in the first Gulf War and also used more recently in Afghanistan from 2001 onwards. The B-52 has also served during the Iraq War and more recently against the Islamic State. Its ability to unleash a large payload is still as effective as ever.

Currently, the average age of the B-52 is over half a century old, at 55 years, and if current trajectories continue it is expected to serve until at least 2050. As its airframe is adaptable, it is able to be continuously refitted with the most modern electronics, avionics and weapons systems available to the USAF.

The reason for B-52s long life span is to do with its cost, flexibility, and technological adaptability. In the current strategic climate, the B-52s design is still very effective. During its life cycle the Bomber has been upgraded a number of times, and more recently a B-52, previously mothballed, has re-entered service with the USAF.

New technology has been installed in the B-52 fleet by the US Air Force and has also expanded its internal weapons bay to increase the payload of the bombers.

These include Joint Direct Attack Munitions as well as new Joint Air-to-Surface missiles. In addition, B-52s could fly with stealth fighter bombers such as the F-35 and the F-22, which serve to penetrate an enemy air defence systems and allow the B-52 to deliver its large payloads onto the target.

More recently during the current tensions in Iran, the B-52 has been deployed to US Central Command to demonstrate both capability and resolve.  It has also been deployed in the Asia Pacific, patrolling over the South China Sea as deterrence in light of the rise of the People’s Republic of China.

As the United States continues to adapt to a growing multipolar world with the rise of Great Powers such as Russia, and China, as well as potential threats in the form of Iran and North Korea, I predict, the B-52 will be here for many years to come.

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Oliver Steward
Oliver is a student at the University of East Anglia studying for a PhD in International Security. His interests include strategy, grand strategy in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific, international relations and politics, maritime strategy, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency warfare, and maritime policy.
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Mark B

Not on one tank of fuel …


B52…still a remarkable aircraft…in anyone’s terms!

Mark B

Seriously though whilst there are adversaries similar to those causing issues at the moment then the B52 will still have a role however if the enemies of the US develop significantly better air defense capabilities it should be remembered that there will be a limit to the ability to upgrade this aircraft and the US might need to start afresh.


The B-52 remains relevant in the future regardless of what grade of AA any enemy has, for the same reason we don’t use it over high-threat targets now. We use other means to defeat the AA systems, then go in with the BUFF to soften the opposition either directly, or with stand-off munitions.

Mark B

OK. Makes sense. Thanks.


The B-52 is great at hauling weapons a long distance. Be that JDAMS or JSSAM missiles. But it is not a penetrating bombing like the B-2 and upcoming B-21. America needs both types of bombers.


Amazing aircraft, and the UK has one. Well the yanks gave us one.


I think it was in May, when a B52 called “Wise Guy” was taken out of the boneyard, made flight worthy and flew to its new home base. The aircraft had been in the yard for over 11 years, but after exhaustive maintenance and some new engines flew again. These old buses will definitely outlive the B1 and B2 bombers. They make awesome stand-off weapons platforms, so “shouldn’t” need to be placed in harms way. It’s a pity we never had the foresight to do the same with either the Vulcan or Victor aircraft. The bomb bay of a Vulcan… Read more »

John Clark

The Vulcan could certainly have been kept going, it’s structure capable of being refitted and rebuilt along the lines of the B52H.

Integrating new avionics would have been more problematic, but not impossible, given the money and will, the Vulcan could have gone on for many years.

The Victor not so unfortunately, it’s structure complex, life limited and not capable of rebuild.


Didn’t we knacker out all the Vulcan airframes by switching them to low level attack? And wasn’t there a suggestion back in the 2000s to give Nimrod some kind of bomb truck capability? I think it was on the back of how the US were using B52s and B1s in Afghanistan, loaded up with precision munitions and able to loiter on station for hours. Perhaps the Poseidons could be used in this role, but then with so few of them it would be a major distraction from their principal role of ASW. If we need an aircraft to loiter over… Read more »


Back in the day, the Nimrod had a larger bomb bay than the Vulcan, it was deeper, but they had roughly the same internal load capacity. The Vulcan however could also carry nearly the same weight externally on hard points under the wings. The Victor, was supposed to have the option of additional hard points, but they never developed the idea. There must have been a reason (initially) for turning the Victors into a tanker rather than the Vulcans. On paper and from listening to people who worked on both. The Victor was faster, could fly higher and faster than… Read more »


The B52 is an amazing aircraft and its longevity is down not only to its basic design but the willingness and commitment of the powers that be to upgrade properly in terms of design,resources and programme. By comparison we have the Nimrod fiasco so maybe a Vulcan life extension sadly might not have gone so well


“…bombing targets in North Vietnam as well as the Vietcong…”

Brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.


In fairness the Vietcong were not operating in North Vietnam, their field of operations was South Vietnam so I think the author was merely highlighting the versatility of the B52 in being able to be used for strikes against military-industrial targets as well as counter-insurgency operations.

But if you want to pick holes, I believe no B52s were used during Rolling Thunder, only tactical strike aircraft were used over the north at that point in the war. B52s did however take part in Operation Linebacker I and II, flying over North Vietnam during Nixon’s administration.


B52s were used in Rolling Thunder but they had the most ridiculous rules placed on them imaginable. For instance they would be ordered to bomb the same target weeks on end, despite the fact the pilots could see it had been moved. All because President Johnson wanted to “limit” escalation. The difference in Linebacker was it allowed the unrestricted bombing of North Vietnam with the ability to change target at the discretion of the squadron commander.


Rules such as having to notify Manila ATC while inbound from Anderson on where they were going and when… No wonder we lost that war…


David Flandry



How easy would it be to concert a civilian air liner into a bomb truck? The air frame itself wouldn’t be the expensive part, I’m assuming the das and any other military hardware make up the bulk of the cost. I just don’t see a substitute for being able to linger in uncontested air space for a long time with a huge volume of ordinance. Drones with one or two hell fires barely scratch the surface when it comes to seriously hindering the enemy in a conflict.


Maybe why the USA still has these big birds flying, shame we British couldn’t have kept a strategic bomber squadron or 4 going considering how good we were in Ww2 and after in that area. But I suppose ballistic and cruise missiles hammered two huge nails into the coffin of British Bombers then cost nailed it shut!, losing the RAF strategic nuclear bombs didnt help. But We actually really really need more RAF fighter jets and helicopters, Well we need more of everything Airborne in the British Millitary sadly!. Sad state of affairs. And Britain’s far richer and has a… Read more »


It has been done before, the Nimrod is a classic example. Due to the need to keep structural integrity the aircraft’s structure was not cut open to house the bomb bay. Instead a new structure was added to the underbelly of a Comet. This gave the Nimrod its figure of 8 appearance when viewed from the front. It did however, place the new belly of the aircraft close to the ground. There was very little clearance between the ground and when the doors were swung open. This made loading weapons an issue as everything had to be loaded in order.… Read more »

David Adams

im sure they could work with the f35. if i was playing armchair air commodore id go with decoy drones, f35’s with air to air and their big brain. tomcats or fighter bombers for the first wave and B52’s as mules loitering further back taking feeds from f35’s or satellites. only guessing but it seems logical