HOW MANY WEAPONS SHOULD BE ENTRUSTED TO A 60-YEAR-OLD?
Thirty-five tons: No other bomber in the U.S. Air Force can carry a comparably large load of such diverse weapons. The B-52 has been described as a flying bomb truck, and it can carry its payload close to the front—but not too close, or it would get shot down. A heavy payload and close proximity to its target remain the aircraft’s raison d'être. And while newer strategic bombers (the B-1B and B-2 Stealth Bomber) feature improved defenses, they too are vulnerable to the latest antiaircraft technology. In May 2020 the Air Force announced plans to equip 76 of the old gals with new engines to keep them flying. And while the average age of the B-52s in the air is now around 60, they’re still armed with nuclear weapons. The 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade (IWBU) allows the B-52H to carry up to 20 of the newest “J-series” weapons, eight internally and six under each wing. The modification increases the carriage capability of the B-52 by almost two-thirds. The aircraft can also carry about 100 conventional bombs. B-52s flew more than 126,000 sorties over Southeast Asia between 1965 and 1973 to carpet-bomb Vietnam. And they flew around 1,700 sorties during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, delivering about 40% of the weapons dropped by coalition forces. The brand-new Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider isn’t scheduled to join the Air Force until 2025.