B-52 Stratofortress: How strong is the strategic bomber that gonna serve for a century?

There are very few countries in the world with strategic bombers. Like having nuclear weapons, they are completely a symbol of the status of a major country. Out of strategic needs, China, the United States and Russia are currently the three main endorsements. 

As the leading aviation powers and the superpower of the world, the United States and Russia leading in strategic bomber technology. There are B-52/B1/B-2A and Tu-95/22M/160, all in terms of quantity and performance are well-matched and unshakable. On the other hand, China can only occupy the second echelon. After all, the equipment models are limited and there are only various modifications from the Tu-16 H-6K/J/N. Among them, the H-6N has air-refueling capability and is barely a half strategic bomber.

Let’s directly come to a comparison chart. From the side view, the B-2 looks small due to the stealth design requirements. In fact, currently, the smallest strategic bomber is the H-6. The development and service time of the H-6 and the B-52 is similar, and everyone can be regarded as a contemporaneous product, but a comprehensive comparison of the load range and other aspects of a B-52 is approximately equal to three H-6s. The US preparing to give B-52 a major upgrade. Let us see how strong and good this model that will be in service for a hundred years.

Comparison chart with other active strategic bomber
Comparison chart with other active strategic bombers

Recently, once again the U.S. Air Force B-52H strategic bomber came out of the box, publicly showing the various weapons and ammunition it uses. From the unpacking photos, it can be seen that the weapons and ammunition on the ground include both nuclear weapons and conventional weapons. The AGM158 missile is placed at the front and the AGM86 cruise missile that can carry nuclear warheads in the center and beside the wings on both sides. Compared with the large amount of conventional ammunition carried in previous announcements, the number of conventional bombs carrying bombs dropped by air is obviously reduced, but the long-range nuclear strike capability outside the defense zone is being strengthened.

In the unpacking photos, it can be seen that 8 AGM-86B air-launched cruise missiles are mounted on the nose rotating pylon, with 6 pylons under the wings on each side, a total of 12. Under normal circumstances, when the B-52H bomber is fully loaded, it can carry 20 AGM-86B air-launched cruise missiles, and can be equipped with adjustable-power nuclear warheads with explosive equivalents ranging from 5,000 tons to 150,000 tons of TNT.

2020 B-52 unboxing photos
2020 B-52 unboxing photos

As a strategic bomber that entered service in the 1950s, the B-52 was nicknamed “Stratofortress”, which was originally based on carpet bombing. It has a wealth of experience in following the U.S. Army in the Southern and Northern Wars. He has participated in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the war on terrorism. He has attacked everything from regular troops to guerrillas. Thanks to the powerful air power of the US military, the air supremacy in every war is firmly in its hands, so the B-52 can perform the function of airborne bombing to perform carpet bombing to the extreme.

AGM86 cruise missile of B-52
AGM86 cruise missile of B-52

The latest U.S. B-52 victory is set in Afghanistan. According to foreign media reports, the Taliban recently captured the city of Shebergan in Afghanistan. The Taliban suffered heavy losses by U.S. B-52 bombers and AC-130 gunboats bombing. At the same time, according to U.S. media reports, the U.S. Air Force has identified the B-52 as the next two main strategic bombers, and the other is the B-21 that is still under development. Moreover, in order to make this classic machine, which has been in service for nearly half of the Bysports period, soon will reach the age of 100 years, a comprehensive upgrade of the B-52 is being carried out. The upgrade mainly includes the replacement of a new engine.

The maintenance costs of maintaining such a huge fleet are expensive. Therefore bombers such as B-1B and B-2A were dismantled, and then they were prepared to replace the engine of this old B-52 aircraft. Of course, the upgraded B-52 could only serve as an air weapon arsenal in the future.

According to the US Air Force Magazine, the US Air Force plans to purchase 608 new engines for the B-52. Pratt & Whitney has proposed to replace the original TF33 with a PW800 commercial engine, which is expected to significantly reduce fuel consumption by 30%. Moreover, the B-52 bomber can reduce the additional weight of about 5400 pounds (about 2450 kg) after the reissue, and will not affect the safety issues such as the aircraft structure, and the range can be further increased by 40%. If calculated according to the B-52’s maximum range of 16,000 kilometers, an increase of 40% can exceed 20,000 kilometers. 

B-52 new engine
B-52 new engine

Why does the B-52 need to replace the engine to upgrade? In fact, a set of data will know the benefits of the replacement. Previously, eight Pratt & Whitney TF-33-P-3/103 turbofan engines were installed on the B-52. According to the US Air Force standard, the TF-33 was overhauled on every 6000 flight hours at a cost of about US$2 million. Coupled with the annual engine fuel cost and routine maintenance, the actual hourly service cost of the B-52 exceeds 70,000 US dollars, so the B-52 is also one of the strategic bombers that are quite expensive to use.

According to the US government report, from 2011 to 2016 alone, the US Air Force spent $7.6 billion a year to normally use 76 B-52s in active service. And if the engine is replaced, the new engine can save 10 billion US dollars in fuel and maintenance costs by 2040, not to mention the US military hopes that the B-52 will be in service until 2050.

In the future, the US military’s strategic air force will maintain two models, B-52 and B-21. The B-21 will be able to use its stealth advantage to do things through defense, while the B-52 will assume the function of a remote air weapon arsenal outside the defense zone. For example, when launching cruise missiles or hypersonic weapons, if the risk factor is not high, ordinary aerial bombs can still be used to drop bombs in the air. In short, the cost of using them is lower after re-launching, and they must persist until they are 100 years old before they can retire.

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