B-52 Stratofortress Operations
The airborne alert operation nicknamed Chrome Dome was a realistic training mission designed to deter enemy forces from a surprise attack on the United States. Demonstrating the Strategic Air Command's nearly immediate retaliatory capability, units flew fully combat-configured bombers along routes that covered parts of Western Europe and North Africa. Under the name Hard Head VI, units flew similar airborne alert operations which were designed to monitor the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System located at Thule, Greenland. SAC wings launched two combat-ready B-52s every 20-23 hours for the duration of the 30-60 day operation. To keep the B-52s airborne for long periods, refueling squadron also performed a number of air refueling missions. These annual operations lasted for five years in the early 1960s.
During the 1960s no-notice alert exercises were conducted periodically to determine if bomber and tanker alert aircraft could meet the BMEWS reaction times for "Bravo" (ready to taxi) and "Coco" (taxi to the active runway hold line) readiness. Average "Bravo" times were four minutes for bombers and five minutes for tankers, while average "Coco" times were 12 minutes for bombers and 15 minutes for tankers.
The aircraft's flexibility was evident during the Vietnam War. 10 years after becoming operational, it saw conventional action when 27 B-52F's from Andersen AFB, Guam, hit Vietcong strongholds in South Vietnam on June 18, 1965. The campaign, Operation Arc Light, was just the beginning of B-52 support during a costly, drawn-out Vietnam conflict that divided America. By year's end, BUFF aircrews had flown more than 1,500 Arc Light sorties in South Vietnam, raining tons of bombs on enemy troop concentrations, bases and supply dumps. Laotian raids followed in December 1965, with raids to North Vietnam added in April 1966. While some military leaders thought highly of Arc Light, many Air Force commanders thought using B-52s for tactical purposes diverted them from their principal mission of strategic deterrence. Others believed they were being used ineffectively, and simply "blowing holes in the jungle."
That changed when Linebacker II started in December 1972. President Richard Nixon - frustrated that once-promising peace talks had broken down between North Vietnamese and U.S. negotiators - ordered massive airstrikes in North Vietnam, including targets in the capital city of Hanoi. Political restraints were reduced and targets that had been off limits in the past, such as major military airfields, were added to a long list of objectives. During Linebacker II, which lasted from Dec. 18-29, more than 700 sorties delivered 150,000 tons of 500- and 750-pound bombs, destroying or damaging 1,600 structures, 500 rail targets, 10 airfields and 80 percent of North Vietnam's electrical power generating capacity. But success came with a stiff price. Surface-to-air missiles, described as flying telephone poles, brought down 19 Air Force aircraft, including 15 BUFFs, with 35 airmen being killed and 39 taken as prisoners of war. By war's end, B-52 aircrews (primarily those in D/G models) had flown 126,615 sorties, dropping more than two and a half million tons of bombs on targets in Laos, Cambodia and both Vietnams.
In Operation Desert Storm. B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and decimated the morale of Iraq's Republican Guard. During the first early morning raid, Stratofortresses flew 2,500 miles from the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to pummel forward Iraqi bases and runways. Sometimes skimming the ground at 400 feet, B-52s dropped cluster bombs that paralyzed and destroyed four airfields and improvised highway landing strips. A few hours later, seven Barksdale AFB aircrews delivered the first conventional air-launched cruise missiles fired from a B-52G in combat. The mission, which had bombers launching from and returning to Barksdale, was at the time the longest distance combat mission in history: 35 hours and 14,000 miles. For the next several weeks, B-52s continued battering Iraqi's elite Republican Guard. Around-the-clock hammerings became a powerful psychological weapon as ground forces gradually wore down and surrendered in droves. The en masse desertions were attributed to the devastating B-52 air strikes. All total, B-52s flew 1,624 Desert Storm missions, delivered 72,000 weapons weighing 25,700 tons, and accounted for 29 percent of all U.S. bombs dropped and 38 percent of all Air Force bombs. And despite being more than 30 years old, it had a mission capable rate of 81 percent - 2 percent higher than its peacetime rate.
Two Barksdale B-52H's, the first of that model to fly in combat, struck Iraqi targets on Sept. 2, 1996, with 13 conventional air-launched cruise missiles as part of Operation Desert Strike, a 34-hour, 16,000-mile round-trip mission from Andersen AFB. The flight was the longest distance ever flown for a combat mission. Only two days prior, the BUFF crews had completed a 17-hour flight from Louisiana just to reach Guam.
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