Warplanes: Please Don't Take Away My B-52s

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namespace prefix = o /?> March 18, 2008: The U.S. Air Force wants to maintain its current fleet of B-52s at 76 aircraft, despite a Congressional mandate to reduce that number to 56. That's because the B-52 has become the cheapest way to make war these days. With the development of GPS guided bombs (JDAM), heavy bombers have become the most cost-effective way to deliver support to ground forces. The B-52 is the cheapest American heavy bomber to operate.

In the last fifty years, the air force has developed six heavy bombers (the 240 ton B-52 in 1955, the 74 ton B-58 in 1960, the 47 ton FB-111 in 1969, the 260 ton B-70 in the 1960s, the 236 ton B-1 in 1985, and the 181 ton B-2 in 1992.) All of these were developed primarily to deliver nuclear weapons (bombs or missiles), but have proved more useful dropping non-nuclear bombs. Only the B-70 was cancelled before being deployed.

The well maintained B-52s are quite sturdy and have, on average, only 16,000 flying hours. The air force estimates that the B-52s won't become un-maintainable until they reach 28,000 flight hours. The B-1 and B-2 were meant to provide a high tech replacement for the B-52, but the end of the Cold War made that impractical. The kinds of anti-aircraft threats the B-1 and B-2 were designed to deal with never materialized. This left the B-52 as the most cost effective way to deliver bombs. The B-1s and B-2s are getting some of the same weapons carrying and communications upgrades as the B-52, if only because these more modern aircraft provide a more expensive backup for the B-52.

Of the 744 B-52s built, only 94 are still fit for service. Nearly fifty have already been donated to museums (including one in Australia and one in South Korea.) Because of the Russia-U.S. START treaty, hundreds of B-52s in the "bone yard" were stripped of any useful equipment in the 1990s, and, since then, chopped up for scrap. This was all done out in the open, so that Russian spy satellites could confirm it.

 


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