TechB-52 bombers to carry hypersonic missiles: Preparing for potential conflict with China

B‑52 bombers to carry hypersonic missiles: Preparing for potential conflict with China

B-52 Stratofortress
B-52 Stratofortress
Images source: © U.S. Air Force

1:25 PM EST, December 28, 2023

The United States Air Force (USAF) is exploring modified pylons for B-52H bombers. These pylons will allow the aircraft to transport as many maneuvering hypersonic missiles as possible in the future, reports The War Zone. According to the website, these modifications hold notable importance with regard to preparing for a potential future conflict with China. The USAF made the search for new pylons for the B-52H public in a recently published order.

Further Modifications for the B-52

The B-52H bombers are anticipated to be the prime platform for carrying hypersonic missiles that are currently under development. This weapon is expected to be commissioned in 2027. The HACM (Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile) is a collaborative project of Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. The missile is slated to be equipped with a scramjet engine, potentially reaching the speed of Mach, and will have the capacity to strike targets at a distance of approximately 994 miles. However, detailed specifications remain unknown.

In line with the new missile development, attempts are being made to discover alternative methods of transporting missiles by the B-52. This includes potential uses of the existing SUU-67/A aircraft pylon for conventional use. The challenge lies in surpassing the performance of the existing weapons nodes, which are currently used in B-52H bombers. As The War Zone details, "A B-52H can currently carry six nuclear-armed AGM-86B under each wing using HSAB equipped with SUU-67/A pylons and also eight missiles on a rotary launcher in the aircraft's bomb bay."

B-52 Bombers in U.S. Service

The B-52 Stratofortress was built as a successor to the heavy Convair B-36 Peacemaker bomber. The aircraft was first flown in 1952, and mass production began three years later. It was designed to undertake a multitude of missions, including strategic attacks, air interceptions, and offensive sea and anti-aircraft operations. According to Boeing, the B-52 is "the bomber with the greatest combat capabilities in the U.S. inventory". This opinion is influenced by its extensive range, carrying capacity, and ability to carry both nuclear and conventional weapons, and potentially hypersonic weapons in the future. Its reliability and relatively low maintenance costs also contribute.

The aircraft, in its launch configuration, weighs 282 tons, with over 34 tons assigned to the firepower, and 200 tons to the fuel giving it a potential range of over 9941 miles. The B-52H version, the last of its kind, dates back to the 1960s. More significant modifications are planned for 2024, which will signal a new designation for the aircraft after 60 years—the B-52J. These changes will encompass the installation of new Rolls-Royce F130 engines, a new AESA radar and an electronic warfare system.

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