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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

B-52 History 1950s

Despite initial optimism, it was apparent that additional development would be required. Of the original batch of 13 aircraft, which would normally have carried a test prefix but were so costly and vital that they were regarded as likely to go straight into the active inventory, the first three were completed as B-52A's and the rest as B-52B's. The A's, which never entered the active inventory, were used for additional development work.

By the early 1950s, SAC was planning for an all-jet, intercontinental bomber, the B-52, and an accompanying all-jet refueling tanker, the KC-135. SAC took delivery of its first B-52 in June 1955. Castle Air Force Base was SAC's first B-52 base, with the installation receiving aircraft in 1956. Loring and Westover also began to receive B-52s before the close of the year. As 1957 opened 88 B-52s were located at SAC bases, while 17 more were in test programs or being modernized at the Wichita Boeing plant. The KC-135 production ran slightly behind that of the B-52.

Delivery of the B-52B in 1955 marked the first of over 740 aircraft, a serial production that included seven different models with each offering technological and operational improvements.

The use of serial production greatly improved the ultimate utility of the B-52 weapon system.

(1) Increases in internal fuel capacity created by design changes from a bladder to an integral wing and advances in engine technology with the introduction of the fanjet resulted in a 1,400-nm increase in combat radius.

(2) Technology advances in basic avionics designs, specifically within the bomb-bay and heading systems, improved both navigation and weapons delivery accuracy. The original components of these serial improvements formed the basis of subsequent updates to incorporate new weapons, delivery tactics, and methods of navigation.

(3) Refined and larger capacity subsystems between each series improved general subsystem performance and reliability. The larger subsystem capacities of later models proved to be a major key in B-52 flexibility and adaptability to changing mission requirements. For example, in the early series designs, small capacity electric alternators and dependency on pneumatically supported subsystems limited avionics growth to small marginal demand systems. Although adequate to support the initial configuration, these production subsystems offered limited flexibility with only small growth capacity. The larger capacity subsystems of later mission design and series (MDS) B-52's, redesigned to reduce pneumatic dependency, proved to be much more flexible and adaptable to the demands of improved bombing, navigation, electronic defense equipment, and other future modifications.

(4) Serial production also provided more timely improvements in aircraft defense by incorporating new technology in later MDS production without the expense or delays of modifying an entire fleet of aircraft. Redesigned and later totally new fire control systems, coupled with upgraded ECM suites, increased the survivability of each new series.

Although not new, this idea of serial production had a profound impact on the usefulness of the B-52. To appreciate this fact, however, it is necessary to understand how the weapon system has been able to adapt over time to changing requirements. To quote Mr. Walter Boyne, Assistant Director of the National Air and Space Museum: ''Had the original . . . design not been so superior, the Air Force would have opted long ago for a new airframe."

B-52 Becomes Operational

When the first production B-52 was being delivered in the mid-1950's, US national security strategy was based upon nuclear superiority and an ability to respond to any aggression with massive retaliation. The primary force objectives outlined at the time were (1) to deter war, (2) resolve conflicts on terms favorable to the United States, and (3) maintain a high state of readiness at a reasonable cost. In short, US strategic forces were prepared to fight a nuclear war with tactics similar to World War II. US nuclear forces, through strategic airpower, provided a nuclear umbrella for America and its allies.

B-52 capabilities became the benchmark for future bomber aircraft. Concurrently, there was a growing awareness of Soviet air defense improvements and its potential impact on US bomber forces. General Curtis LeMay, then Commander of SAC, expressed concern that large aircraft like the B-52 would soon require additional ECM equipment for self protection. As a result, in May 1958, Sperry, the prime ECM contractor, brought in eight additional companies to help design a major update of the whole ECM systems Improved defensive systems were incorporated as engineering change proposals in the midst of production.

During the same period, SAC issued a new requirement for a low level bombing and navigation capability to improve bomber penetration and survival. By 1958, operational reports from covert U-2 operations indicated "that the Russians were tracking some of the U-2 flights and that surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) were being fired . . . some of which were coming uncomfortably close to the U-2s operating altitude." This confrontation helped prompt revision of tactics for the B-52 and was the first of several new, major changes.

Although the new low level requirement would apply to the other SAC bombers, it would have its greatest impact upon the B-52. To fly the new attack profile, the B-52C through H models were modified with a new terrain avoidance radar, an improved radar altimeter, increased cooling capacity for sustained low altitude operations, modified equipment mounts, and a general strengthening of the aircraft's secondary structures. The goal was to permit reliable, all-weather operation at 500 feet, to avoid detection, and to minimize encounters with enemy defenses. Low level training for SAC bomber crews began in the late 1950's, with actual aircraft modification beginning in 1961.

While the low level penetration tactic was being refined, new weapons developments in the form of the ADM-20 Quail and the AGM-28 Hound Dog were also being pursued. The Quail, an improved defensive capability initiated in the late 1950's, was a decoy missile designed to be carried in the aft bomb bay of a B-52 for launch while en route to the target. The missile was programmed by the crew to fly at approximately the same speed and altitude as the B-52. Its primary mission was to confuse enemy radar by creating a reflected image similar to the carrier aircraft.

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Page last modified: 23-08-2017 18:53:58 ZULU