The last B-52 Stratofortress rolled off the line in 1962 and quickly became a staple of the US’s air power.
Now, more than five decades later, it’s undergoing upgrades to compete in the modern battle space.
Last week, the 96th Bomb Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base became the first squadron to train B-52s with internal-weapons-bay upgrades.
The Military Standard 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade (IWBU) program, the latest in a long line of upgrades to the B-52’s relatively ancient airframe, will allow the plane to carry ordinance inside the fuselage.
“The IWBU to the B-52H provides increased carriage capability for precision weapons to include the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM),” said Capt. Kenny, a 96th Bomb Squadron instructor weapon-systems officer said in a US Air Force Release.
“This new capability also extends our range by reducing the amount of drag that external weapons produce,” continued Kenny.
The IWBU will first rewire the plane to drop eight JDAMs from a conventional rotary launcher bomb bay, and then they’ll reconfigure the pylons to go from holding 12 to 16 JDAMs, nearly doubling the B-52’s capacity for these high-tech bombs.
Previously B-52s were only able to drop unguided munitions, or “dumb bombs,” from the weapons bay.
“The B-52’s pylons have had the capability to speak to the digital systems on precision weapons like JDAM for years, while the bomb bay remained analog and only capable of dropping unguided conventional weapons. That’s where the IWBU comes in.”
Kenny went on to explain why this small change potentially has so much meaning: “IWBU nearly doubles the number of JDAMs a single plane can carry,” Kenny said.
“This gives us the option to reduce the number of aircraft required to execute a mission, lowers our fuel requirements and provides us with more flexible load outs, enabling us to strike a wider range of target types during any given mission.”
“The B-52 has always been capable of executing a wide variety of missions,” Kenny said. “The IWBU provides more flexibility and capability in order to more effectively execute these diverse set of missions across numerous combatant commands.”
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Currently, the B-52 is slated to remain active in the Air Force’s fleet until 2040, at which point it would have completed nearly a century of service. Even as the Air Force pushes toward the B-21, a new bomber platform, the B-52 remains relevant due to regular upgrades like the IWBU.
B-52s operating out of Qatar are supporting coalition and allied forces in the fight against ISIS with the Combined Joint Task Force’s Operation Inherent Resolve.