Attrition: B-52s Going Into Storage

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August 1, 2008: The first of 18 U.S. Air Force B-52H bombers has been retired. All 18 will have been decommissioned and put into storage by next Spring. That will leave 76 still active. The retired B-52Hs have been in service 47 years. These aircraft could continue for another decade or more, but it was decided (between Congress and the air force) that the money saved from not maintaining such elderly aircraft could be better used elsewhere.

What's happening here is part of a major change in how heavy bombers are used. A B-52 armed with JDAMs (GPS guided bombs) is more effective than over a hundred B-52s armed with dumb (unguided) bombs. The air force is still trying to sort out where all of this is going. GPS guided smart bombs have revolutionized warfare, but not to the air force's advantage. The greater reliability and accuracy of the GPS bombs means that far fewer bombs, and bombers, are needed. The air force still has its 65 years of air superiority, and maintaining it, to worry about. Many officials in the Department of Defense fear that this advantage may be lost if the United States does not keep up with coming shift to robotic fighter aircraft, or any other revolutions brought about by advances in sensor and missile technology. The pilots who run the air force (and naval aviation) are not keen on adopting robotic air superiority fighters, but less partisan observers have seen such parochialism cause disasters in the past.

There is a push for robotic bombers, and these already exist in the form of UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper (or, if you want to be picky, the 1980s era cruise missile).

 


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