TechUS Air Force allocates $48.6bn to upgrade iconic B-52 bombers for strategic defense till 2060

US Air Force allocates $48.6bn to upgrade iconic B‑52 bombers for strategic defense till 2060

B-52 Bomber
B-52 Bomber
Images source: © Public domain
3:44 PM EST, February 13, 2024

The B-52 bombers are iconic aircraft that have been instrumental in many vital American missions over the years. They have patrolled the airspace near the Soviet Union borders, participated in air raids during the Vietnam War, were part of Operation Desert Storm, and in recent years, conducted precision strikes on members of the Islamic State (ISIS), as recalled by Defense News.

B-52 Bombers Remain Essential to American Defense

Despite being in service since 1954, there are no plans to retire these machines. Instead, they are to receive upgrades that will help extend their operational lifespan to 100 years, even though their initial service was intended to be only 20 years. According to Defense News, this will be regarded as "the most thorough modernization of the American bomber fleet in over a generation."

The Pentagon intends to designate 48.6 billion dollars for the modernization of these bombers. The aircraft are set to receive new F130 engines made by Rolls-Royce, an upgraded avionic system, improved communication systems, a new radar, wheels, brakes, and a modernized and enlarged weapon carrying compartment. The revamped bombers will be designated as B-52J. The commencement of their initial ground and flight tests are predicted to begin towards the end of 2028.

Americans are relying on the B-52J and B-21 Raider to safeguard the country and support globally conducted strikes. Heather Penney, a retired F-16 pilot and defense policy expert at the Mitchell Institute for Space Studies, told Defense News, "Long-range strikes are absolutely non-negotiable. Bombers, that's it," thereby emphasizing their importance for potential conflict and long-range attacks.

However, Penney, like many experts, perceives a significant problem: insufficient investment in the US bomber fleet since the 90s. America reduced the purchase of B-2s by over 100 units, allowed the B-1 fleet to decline, and delayed the commencement of work on the B-21 Raider. As a result, the B-52 has taken on the brunt of strategic bombing aviation. Penney pointed out: "We're asking geriatric B-52s to be that backbone as we wait for B-21 to come on board."

Between 1954 and 1962, 744 B-52 bombers were constructed for the US Air Force. Today, 10 percent of these machines, built between 1960 and 1962, are still operable and in use. These planes, successors to the Convair B-36 Peacemaker, have long been purposed for a variety of tasks – strategic attacks, air interceptions, offensive naval operations, to air defense operations.

Boeing's designers engineered the B-52 for long range, high payload, and the ability to carry both nuclear and conventional weapons. The aircraft turned out to be relatively inexpensive to operate and quite reliable. Why dispose of something that still works well? Particularly since, as Łukasz Michalik, a WP Tech journalist, reports, "With their size, B-52s currently offer the US Air Force a very favorable cost-of-flight-hour to range and payload ratio."

While the mass modernization of the B-52 is necessary, Penney is concerned about its future. In her conversation with Defense News, she hinted that if the B-52 upgrades turn out much more complex than anticipated, affecting its implementation timeline, the US Air Force may need to extend the lifespan of some B-1s and B-2s to maintain an adequate number of operational bombers.

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