Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


B-52 Stratofortress Description

The B-52 can carry a wide assortment of offensive weapons including conventional "iron bombs," nuclear bombs, and a variety of missiles such as the ALCM (air-launched cruise missile) and the SCRAM (short-range attack missile). Four Skybolt ballistic missiles were mounted on the wings of the B-52H, though this missile was not put into production. Two Hound Dog missiles were mounted under the wings of the B-52H. The Hound Dog is really a small jet-powered airplane with a range of up to 700 miles and a maximum speed of over Mach 2.

The B-52 has never been called upon to deliver a nuclear weapon upon an enemy target. It served with distinction, however, during the Vietnam conflict. Operating from bases on the island of Guam, many thousands of tons of conventional bombs were dropped on targets in North Vietnam. From Guam to the area of conflict involved a round-trip flight of nearly 5000 miles. Total mission times were in the order of 16 to 18 hours. Surface-to-air missiles as well as combat with enemy aircraft were always a possibility in the target area.

During the Vietnam War the "Big Belly" modification of the B-52Ds to carry conventional bombs increased the internal bomb bay load from 27 to 84 bombs, and added modified underwing bomb racks to carry 24 bombs, resulting in a maximum payload of 60,000 pounds of bombs -- a total of 108 bombs.

In a conventional conflict, the B-52H can perform air interdiction, offensive counter-air and maritime operations. During Desert Storm, B-52s delivered 40 percent of all the weapons dropped by coalition forces. It is highly effective when used for ocean surveillance, and can assist the U.S. Navy in anti-ship and mine-laying operations. Two B-52s, in two hours, can monitor 140,000 square miles (364,000 square kilometers) of ocean surface.

Starting in 1989, an on-going modification incorporates the global positioning system, heavy stores adaptor beams for carrying 2,000 pound munitions and additional smart weapons capability. All aircraft are being modified to carry the AGM-142 Raptor missile and AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.

The B-52H was designed for nuclear standoff, but it now has the conventional warfare mission role with the retirement of the B-52G's. The B-52 can carry different kinds of external pylons under its wings.

  • The AGM-28 pylon can carry lighter weapons like the MK-82 and can carry 12 weapons on each pylon, for a total of 24 external weapons. With the carriage of 27 internal weapons, the total is 51.
  • Heavy Stores Adaptor Beam [HSAB] external pylon can carry heavier weapons rated up to 2000 lbs. However, each HSAB can carry only 9 weapons which decreases the total carry to 45 (18 external).
  • A third type pylon is used for carrying ALCMs/CALCMs/ACMs.

So the B-52 can carry a maximum of either 51 or 45 munitions, depending on which pylon is mounted under the wings. However, the AGM-28 pylon is no longer used, so the B-52 currently carries on HSABs, limiting the external load to 18 bombs, or a total of 45 bombs.

The use of aerial refueling gives the B-52 a range limited only by crew endurance. It has an unrefueled combat range in excess of 8,800 miles (14,080 kilometers).

Current B-52H crew size is five. Pilot and co-pilot are side by side on the upper flight deck near the nose, in a manner similar to a commercial transport, along with the electronic warfare officer (EWO), seated behind the pilot facing aft. The two prototype aircraft had the pilots seated in a tandem arrangement similar to that of the B-47. On a lower deck beneath the pilots' compartment are seated the navigator and radar navigator. All crew stations are pressurized, heated, and air-conditioned. In the event of an emergency, means for crew escape is provided by upward ejection seats for those on the upper deck and downward ejection seats for those on the lower deck.

The B-52 was originally manned by a crew of six. On the G and H models, the gunner who remotely controls the guns located in the tail was seated behind the pilots on the upper deck. On earlier versions of the aircraft, the gunner was physically located in the tail end of the fuselage. Movement of the gunner from the tail to a position behind the pilots removed this unfortunate individual from an isolated location that in turbulent air promised a ride similar to that of a high-speed roller coaster.

Several types of tail guns have been employed on different versions of the aircraft. The G model of the B-52 was equipped with the AN/ASG-15 defensive fire control system directing four .50 caliber machine guns. The H model of the B-52 uses the AN/ASG-21 defensive fire control system utilizing the GE M61A1 20mm cannon; a 20-mm six-barrel rotary cannon. Though both the AN/ASG-15 and AN/ASG-21 were designed to accomplish the same task, they were nonetheless very different in their design and operation. The ASG-15 had more than 20 modes of operation on the ASG-15 while the ASG-21 had just 4. The AN/ASG-15's .50 caliber machine guns were also prone to jam while the AN/ASG-21 GE weapon rarely did. Similar to the system employed on the B-58 Hustler, the B-52H's AN/ASG-21 featured two radars in its fire control system. In the mid-1980's, Emerson upgraded the ASG-21 to a totally digital system with the exception of three tubes, thereby making the tracking of missiles possible as a result.

For those versions of the aircraft in which the gunner was located in the tail, the entire tall capsule was separated in an emergency and the gunner was expected to fight his way clear of this unit and then complete his escape by a hand-operated parachute. Needless to say, the morale of the gunner was greatly increased when he was relocated to a position behind the pilots.

Side by side on the lower flight deck are the radar navigator, responsible for weapons delivery, and the navigator, responsible for guiding the aircraft from point A to point B. Because the H model was not originally designated for conventional ordnance delivery, weapons delivery was assigned to the radar navigator and the "bombardier/navigator" crew station designation of the earlier B-52 series was not used.)

  • Pilots are responsible for all aspects of aircraft operation. Aircraft Commanders and copilots provide airborne leadership and decision making at all times. Not only do the pilots fly the aircraft, they have a detailed knowledge of all systems. This enables them to identify, troubleshoot, and correct aircraft system malfunctions to safely recover crew and aircraft.
  • Navigators are the B-52 mission controllers. They ensure the aircraft arrives at critical mission events such as air refueling, high and low altitude bombing, and cruise missile launches on time. They also provide inputs to the pilots for both airspeed and direction to these critical events.
  • Radar Navigators are basically "bombardiers." After serving as a navigator for a few years, they upgrade to radar navigator. The radar navigator's extensive experience and knowledge of complex B-52 delivery systems are critical in mission success, which is defined as "weapons on target."
  • Electronic Warfare Officers (EW) use advantages of modern systems to defend the aircraft. Today's combat aircraft utilize the latest computer technologies to jam or confuse the enemy while destroying strategic or tactical targets and leaving behind a wake of destruction and chaos. Getting out without becoming a casualty statistic requires the coordination of electronic wizardry by the EW.

Maintaining the B-52 in combat condition is no easy task. Aviators count on maintenance to provide safe, reliable aircraft on time and ready to go. Because most of these aircraft are older than the crews that maintain them, maintenance personnel must work harder and smarter to continue to achieve the safest and highest quality product possible.

  • Crew Chiefs - Service, inspect and perform general maintenance. These dedicated professionals work night and day coordinating maintenance actions and preparing their aircraft for the next flight.
  • Specialists - Comprised of a highly skilled maintenance technicians from the Aircraft Propulsion, Pneudraulics, Electrical/Environmental, Communications/Navigation, Bombing/Navigation, Electronic Counter Measures and Guidance/Control career fields.
  • Weapons Loaders - The vast array of bombs and missiles make the B-52 a powerful weapon. These "loaders" use teamwork and precision techniques to ensure rapid and accurate loading of aircraft armaments.
  • Support Section - Aircraft require logistical support in order to operate. These personnel provides just that in the form of parts, tools and other specialized support functions.
  • Plans and Scheduling - Coordinating flying and maintenance of aircraft while still meeting taskings and deadlines is no easy trick. The personnel must produce a utilization plan that balances mission requirements and still provides needed "down time" for aircraft repairs and modifications.

The controls and displays for aircraft systems are distributed among the crew stations on the basis of responsibilities. The Air Force's objective is to employ the latest navigation and communication technology to reduce the crew size to four people, by combining the radar navigator and navigator functions into one position.


All B-52s are equipped with an electro-optical viewing system that uses platinum silicide forward-looking infrared and high resolution low-light-level television sensors to augment the targeting, battle assessment, flight safety and terrain-avoidance system, thus further improving its combat ability and low-level flight capability.

Pilots wear night vision goggles (NVGs) to enhance their night visual, low-level terrain-following operations. Night vision goggles provide greater safety during night operations by increasing the pilot's ability to visually clear terrain and avoid enemy radar.

The navigator stations use CRT displays and 386x-type processors. Interface to avionics architecture is based on the Mil-Std-1553B data bus specification.



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