The venerable B-52 Stratofortress could soon be joining the ranks of coalition aircraft deployed in the Middle East against Islamic State, according to a report in Air Force Times.
US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James recently indicated that B-52s could replace the B-1Bs currently returning from the theatre for modernisation and maintenance. The B-1Bs — deployed to the Al Udeid base in Qatar — have been making a major contribution to the anti-ISIS effort. For example, between July 2015 and Janary 2016, they flew almost 500 missions, releasing 4,850 bombs.
Though final approval has yet to come through, James said that there have been recent infrastructure improvements that now allow the necessary support to deploy the B-52 in theatre.
If the deployment does indeed go ahead, it will be just one more example of the aircraft’s continuing relevance in today’s conflicts. Its Sniper targeting pod allows better integration with ground forces and laser guided bombs for precision strike capability.
Also on the way — probably in the 2020s — is a new radar. Almost $500m has been earmarked for the replacement of the original Northrop Grumman AN/APQ-166 mechanically scanned array radar under the Radar Modernisation Programme (RMP). The Air Force is expected to adapt an existing radar to the bomber, possibly an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) system to give it synthetic aperture capability and reduce its electromagnetic footprint.
As an illustration of the aircraft’s capabilities, USAF B-52s recently joined French aircraft and ground troops from a dozen nations as part of the Serpentex close air support exercise. This is the first year B-52s have been invited to participate in the exercise, as the role of close air support has traditionally been filled by various fighter platforms. The Stratofortress is well-suited for this application, however, as it can loiter for extended periods and carries a wider range of munitions than any other aircraft in the U.S. inventory.
The B-52s involved in Serpentex also participated in the Norwegian-led Cold Response 16, a large-scale NATO military training exercise in the Trøndelag region of Norway involving 16,000 troops and comprising air, ground and maritime operations.