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B-52 Stratofortress

The B-52H BUFF [Big Ugly Fat Fellow] is the primary nuclear roled bomber in the USAF inventory. It provides the only Air Launch Cruise Missile carriage in the USAF. The B-52H also provides theater CINCs with a long range strike capability. The bomber is capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet (15,166.6 meters). It can carry nuclear or conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability.

The aircraft's flexibility was evident during the Vietnam War and, again, in Operation Desert Storm. B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and decimated the morale of Iraq's Republican Guard. The Gulf War involved the longest strike mission in the history of aerial warfare when B-52s took off from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., launched conventional air launched cruise missiles and returned to Barksdale -- a 35-hour, non-stop combat mission.

A total of 744 B-52s were built with the last, a B-52H, delivered in October 1962. Only the H model is still in the Air Force inventory and all are assigned to Air Combat Command. The first of 102 B-52H's was delivered to Strategic Air Command in May 1961. The H model can carry up to 20 air launched cruise missiles. In addition, it can carry the conventional cruise missile which was launched from B-52G models during Desert Storm.

Barksdale AFB, LA and Minot AFB, ND serves as B-52 Main Operating Bases (MOB). Training missions are flown from both MOBs. Barksdale AFB and Minot AFB normally supports 57 and 36 aircraft respectively on-station.


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.

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).

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.

Current B-52H crew size is five. Pilot and co-pilot are side by side on the upper flight deck, along with the electronic warfare officer (EWO), seated behind the pilot facing aft.

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.)

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.

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

Current Upgrade Activities

The current service life of the aircraft extends to 2040.

The B-52 is a typical representation of the misnomer of "legacy" system. While the B-52 exceeds 30 years of age, new modifications and mission capabilities are constantly updating the system. The following is a list of current B-52 modification programs:

  1. Global Positioning System (GPS)
  2. TACAN Replacement System (TRS)
  3. Integrated Conventional Stores Management System (ICSMS)
  4. ARC-210/DAMA Secure Voice
  5. AGM-142 HAVENAP Missile Integration
  6. High Reliability Maintenance-Free Battery
  7. Electronic Counter-Measures Improvement (ECMI)
  8. Off-Aircraft Pylon Tester (OAPT)
  9. Air Force Mission Support System (AFMSS)
  10. Electro Viewing System - EVS 3-in-1 (EVS, STV, FLIR)
  11. Advanced Weapons Integration Program (JDAM, WCMD, JSOW, JASSM)
  12. Night Vision Imaging System Cockpit Compatible Lighting
  13. Night Vision Imaging System Compatible Ejection Seat Mod
  14. Standard Flight Loads Data Recorder (SFLDR)
  15. Avionics Midlife Improvement (AMI) (ACU, DTUC, and INS Replacement)
  16. ALR-20 System Replacement
  17. Fuel Temperature Monitoring System
  18. Panoramic Night Vision Goggles
  19. Advanced Infrared Expendables
  20. Advanced real Time Engine Health Monitoring System
  21. Closed Loop Sensor-To Shoot Data Collection/Trans
  22. Precision Targeting Radar
  23. TF-33 Engine Replacement
  24. Lethal Self Protection
  25. B-52 Cockpit Modernization
  26. KY-58 VINSON Secure Voice
  27. AVTR
  28. Additional Cabin Pressure Altimeter
  29. Enhanced Bomber Mission Management System
  30. Chaff and Flare Dispenser Upgrade
  31. Non 1760 Pylon Upgrade

The B-52 is undergoing a Conventional Enhancement Modification which allows it to carry MIL-STD 1760 weapons. The Advanced Weapons Integration (AWI) program supports the conventional enhancement of the B-52 through the addition of the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD), Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), Joint Stand-off Weapon (JSOW), and the Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM). Limited Initial Operational Capability for the WCMD was achieved on the B-52 in December 1998, and LIOC for JDAM was achieved on the B-52 in December 1998.

The Air Force Mission Support System supports the Air Force movement of all mission planning to a common system. GPS TACAN Emulation provides support to the Congressionally-directed GPS-2000. Electronic Countermeasures Improvement supports a DESERT STORM identified deficiency. The B-61 Mod 11 program was added at the direction of the Nuclear Posture Review and Presidential Decision Directive-30.

The AGM-142 (or Have Nap as it is commonly called) and Harpoon missile systems were first installed and made operational on the B-52Gs in the mid-1980s. When the �G� models were retired, these capabilities were moved to the B-52H model. While Air Combat Command (ACC) was happy to retain these operational capabilities, they were limited in their ability to employ either Have Nap or Harpoon by the fact that only a limited number of B-52Hs could employ the missiles. In the early 1990s the B-52 Conventional Enhancement Modification (CEM) Integrated Product Team (IPT) began programs to make it possible for any B-52H to carry and launch either missile. At about the same time, the AGM-142 SPO began a second phase of their producibility enhancement program, PEPII for short, to upgrade the AGM-142 missiles to both enhance supportability and lower the missiles cost. As of 31 December 97 these programs provided ACC with the expanded and more flexible mission capability they desired.


The B-61 Mod 11 program involves development and testing of a modified nuclear weapon on B-52 operational aircraft. Replacement of a strategic weapon was recommended by the Nuclear Posture Review and directed by Presidential Decision Review-30. Congress was notified during the second quarter of FY 1995, of the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy intent to modify an existing weapon to provide a replacement option. Modifications (made by the Department of Energy) to the B-61 Mod 7 strategic bomb accomplish the mission requirements of the replaced weapon. Modification of an existing weapon is less expensive than the cost to develop a new weapon from "scratch." Flight testing by the 419th FLTS, Edwards AFB, CA is required to certify the modified weapon mass and physic properties are the same as the Mod 7 device. The Air Force asked and received permission from Congress to reprogram the $4.5M FY 96 Congressional plus-up for AGM-130 integration on the B-52, into the B-61 Mod 11 Flight Test program. This program was completed in FY 97.

A key element to preserving the combat capability of the BUFF is the continued effort to improve the reliability, maintainability, and supportability (RM&S) for the B-52s in the near future. The three major defensive ECM systems on the aircraft, the AN/ALQ-172, AN/ALQ-155, and AN/ALR-20, all needed upgrades or replacement due to performance, reliability, and/or supportability problems. In addition, a myriad of other defensive systems on the BUFFs required enhancements to keep the B-52 ECM suite viable throughout the lifetime of the aircraft. In FY97, the B-52 fleet received only six percent of the overall bomber budget which further complicated efforts to maintain these aging ECM systems.

Between October 1996 and March 1997, the B-52 ECM suite became the leading cause of the Air Combat Command's B-52 bomber wings not meeting mission capable (MC) rate standards for the B-52H fleet. The aircraft's three major defensive systems all needed upgrades or replacement due to performance, reliability, and supportability issues. During these six months, these three systems combined to produce a six month mission incapable (MICAP) driver rate for the B-52 fleet of more than 43,000 hours. In addition, B-52 ECM employees discovered that because of this, readiness spares packages (RSPs) kits were depleted of several key system line replaceable units (LRUs). This resulted in a significant impact to the operational readiness of the entire B-52H fleet.

In March 1997, HQ ACC B-52 logistics officials (HQ ACC/LGF52), Oklahoma City ALC B-52 leadership (OC-ALC/LHL), and managers from the Center's LNR division implemented an ECM Support Improvement Plan (SIP) to improve the B-52H ECM MICAP rate and RSP fill rates to acceptable levels. As a result, they eliminated MICAPs by April 1997 and filled RSP kits to the Independent Kit Level by May 1997.

The ALQ-172 ECM electronic countermeasures suite is being improved to cover a requirement identified during DESERT STORM. The improvement provides for an increased memory capability to handle advanced threats as well as correcting a coverage capability problem. The project adds a third ALQ-172 to the ECM suite and develops the new display required by the addition of the third system. The B-52's electronic countermeasures suite is capable of protecting itself against a full range of air defense threat systems by using a combination of electronic detection, jamming and infrared countermeasures. The B-52 can also detect and counter missiles engaging the aircraft from the rear. These systems are undergoing continuous improvement in order to enable them to continue to counter emerging threat systems.

Situational Awareness is the highest priority modification needed for the B-52. The Electronic Countermeasure Improvement is a Reliability and Maintainability initiative that upgrades two low Mean Time Between Failure components, and replaces two Control and Display Units (CDU) with one CDU. The ECM system uses 1960s-era technology and will likely be unsupportable by FY02.

Link-16 - A line-of-sight datalink that uses structured message formats to provide the capability for an organized network of users to transfer in real-time/near real-time, digitized tactical information between tactical data systems used to increase survivability and develop a real-time picture of the battlespace.

An unsolicited proposal for reengining 94 aircraft in the B-52 fleet was submitted to the Air Force by Boeing North American, Inc. in June 1996. Boeing proposed modernizing the B-52 fleet by replacing the current TF-33 engines with a commercial engine through a long-term leasing agreement, and providing fixed-cost, privatized maintenance based on the number of hours flown each year. Boeing's proposal included modernizing the B-52 fleet by replacing the TF-33 engines with the Allison/Rolls commercial RB-211 engine through a long-term leasing agreement and providing a fixed-cost, privatized maintenance concept through a "power-by-the-hour" arrangement. Boeing initially projected reengining cost savings of about $6 billion, but later revised the projected savings to $4.7 billion to reengine 71 B-52s. An Air Force team formed to study Boeing's proposal analyzed the lease and purchase alternatives and concluded that both options are cost prohibitive compared to maintaining the existing TF-33 engines. The General Accounting Office estimated that Boeing's unsolicited proposal to reengine the B-52 fleet would cost the Air Force approximately $1.3 billion rather than save approximately $4.7 billion as Boeing projected.

Service Life

Updated with modern technology, the B-52 will continue into the 21st century as an important element of US forces. There is a proposal under consideration to re-engine the remaining B-52H aircraft to extend the service life. B-52 re-engine plans, if implemented, call for the B-52 to be utilized through 2025. Current engineering analysis show the B-52's life span to extend beyond the year 2040. The limiting factor of the B-52�s service life is the economic limit of the aircraft's upper wing surface, calculated to be approximately 32,500 to 37,500 flight hours. Based on the projected economic service life and forecast mishap rates, the Air Force will be unable to maintain the requirement of 62 aircraft by 2044, after 84 years in service

The May 1997 Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), prescribed a total fleet of 187 bombers (95 B-1, 21 B-2, and 71 B-52). Since the QDR, two B-1s have been lost in peacetime accidents. However, the Report of the Panel to Review Long-Range Air Power (LRAP) concluded the existing bomber fleet cannot be sustained through the expected life of the air frames and that additional aircraft will eventually be required. To address this issue, the Air Force will add five additional B-52 attrition reserve aircraft, bringing the B-52 total from 71 to 76 for a total bomber force of 190. The B-52 fleet will remain the same with 44 combat-coded aircraft.


Primary Function:

Heavy bomber


Boeing Military Airplane Co.

Power Plant:

Eight Pratt & Whitney engines TF33-P-3/103 turbofan


Each engine up to 17,000 pounds (7,650 kilograms)


159 feet, 4 inches (48.5 meters)


40 feet, 8 inches (12.4 meters)


185 feet (56.4 meters)


650 miles per hour (Mach 0.86)


50,000 feet (15,151.5 meters)


Approximately 185,000 pounds empty (83,250 kilograms)

Maximum Takeoff Weight:

488,000 pounds (219,600 kilograms)


Unrefueled 8,800 miles (7,652 nautical miles)

NOTE: The B-52 can carry 27 internal weapons. Authoritative sources diverge as to maximum munition loads, with some suggesting as many as 51 smaller munitions and 30 larger munitions, while others suggest maximum loads of 45 and 24, respectively.

  The Heavy Stores Adaptor Beam [HSAB] external pylon can carry only 9 weapons which limits the total carry to 45 (18 external).

  The AGM-28 pylon could carry lighter weapons like the MK-82 and can carry 12 weapons on each pylon, for a total of 24 external weapons, for a the total of 51. 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.

Approximately 70,000 pounds (31,500 kilograms) mixed ordnance -- bombs, mines and missiles.

12 SRAM [ext]
12 ACM [ext]
  2 B53 [int]
  8 B-61 Mod11 [int]
  8 B-83 [int]

51 CBU-52 (27 int, 18 ext)
51 CBU-58 (27 int, 18 ext)
51 CBU-71 (27 int, 18 ext)
30 CBU 87 (6 int, 18 ext)
30 CBU 89 (6 int, 18 ext)
30 CBU 97 (6 int, 18 ext)
51 M117
18 Mk 20 (ext)
51 Mk 36
  8 Mk 41
12 Mk 52
  8 Mk 55
  8 Mk 56
51 Mk 59
  8 Mk 60 (CapTor)
51 Mk. 62
  8 Mk. 64
  8 Mk 65
51 MK 82
18 MK 84 (ext)

18 JDAM (12 ext)
30 WCMD (16 ext)
  8 AGM-84 Harpoon
  8 AGM-142 Popeye [3 ext]
18 AGM-154 JSOW (12 ext)
12 AGM-158 JASSSM [ext]


  AN/ALQ-117 PAVE MINT active countermeasures set

  AN/ALQ-122 false target generator [Motorola]

  AN/ALQ-153 tail warning set [Northrop Grumman]

  AN/ALQ-155 jammer Power Management System [Northrop Grumman]

  AN/ALQ-172(V)2 electronic countermeasures system [ITT]

  AN/ALR-20A Panoramic countermeasures radar warning receiver

  AN/ALR-46 digital warning receiver [Litton]

  AN/ALT-32 noise jammer

  12 AN/ALE-20 infra-red flare dispensers

  6 AN/ALE-24 chaff dispensers

  AN/ANS-136 Inertial Navigation Set

  AN/APN-224 Radar Altimeter

  AN/ASN-134 Heading Reference

  AN/APQ-156 Strategic Radar

  AN/ASQ-175 Control Display Set

  AN/AYK-17 Digital Data Display

  AN/AYQ-10 Ballistics Computer

  AN/AAQ-6 FLIR Electro-optical viewing system

  AN/AVQ-22 Low-light TV Electro-optical viewing system

  AN/ARC-210 VHF/UHF communications

  AN/ARC-310 HF radio communications  


Five (aircraft commander, pilot, radar navigator, navigator and electronic warfare officer)


Six ejection seats

Unit Cost:

$30 million

Date Deployed:

February 1955


56 combat-coded
Active force, 94; ANG, 0; Reserve, 9

B-52 Image Bank

B-52 History

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Originally created by John Pike
Sunday, April 23, 2000 7:24:33 AM