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.