- (US Air Force photo/Christopher Okula)
The US Air Force has successfully completed two tests of the B-52 Stratofortress bomber in leaflet-drop operations, moving closer to including one of the service’s biggest bombers in psychological operations.
Personnel from the 419th Flight Test Squadron performed two sorties with the B-52, dropping eight PDU-5/B leaflet bombs over test ranges in California.
“We are primarily looking to see safe separation from the external Heavy Stores Adapter Beam” – an external pylon that can carry up to a 2,000-pound payload – said Kevin Thorn, the squadron’s B-52 air-vehicle manager, according to an Air Force release.
“We are ensuring that the bombs do not contact the aircraft, and/or each other, creating an unsafe condition,” Thorn added. “Additionally we are tracking the reliability of the bomb functioning.”
The PDU-5/B is a variant of the CBU, or Cluster Bomb Unit. The Air Force’s Information Warfare Battlelab repurposed Rockeye cluster munitions to pack them with leaflets. The weapon’s designation is based on its contents, the Air Force said.
- (U.S. Air Force image)
The current model of the PDU-5/B can carry about 60,000 leaflets and costs less than $500 each. When released from the aircraft, a fuse detonates the bomb at a certain time to release the leaflets.
According to The Aviationist, which first spotted the news, PDU-5/Bs were used to drop leaflets over ISIS militants in Syria in 2015. Previously, they were used in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq – in the latter, they were dropped over Baghdad before actual bombing started.
The PDU-5/B can be dropped from helicopters and other aircraft.
US F-15E Strike Eagles deployed them over Syria in 2015, and Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft dropped them over Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province in 2012.
“The PDU-5/B is just another tool that the B-52 uses in its vast and reliable tool box,” said Earl Johnson, B-52 PDU-5/B project manager.
“Without the capability to carry PDU-5s on the B-52 aircraft, the impending shortfall on leaflet dispersal capability will jeopardize Air Force Central Command information operations.”
Business Insider asked Air Force Materials Command about the reason for that looming shortfall and why the B-52 specifically was being considered for this new role but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
Johnson said this round of testing was finished, but the B-52 will undergo further trials using its internal weapons bays to deploy the PDU-5/B.