March 24, 2016:
First six of 76 American B-52H bombers are receiving enhanced internal weapons bay launchers that enable them to carry satellite guided munitions in the internal weapons bay for the first time. This came after several months of successful testing. The 1760 IWBU (Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade) enhancement modifies the standard Common Strategic Rotary Launcher in the internal weapons bay into a Conventional Rotary Launcher (CRU) and allows the B-52 to carry smart weapons in the internal weapons bay. Earlier the B-52 could carry smart weapons only on its underwing pylons, but weapons placed on them create aerodynamic drag during flight, increasing fuel consumption and reducing flight endurance. This upgrade will allow the B-52 to carry more smart weapons, and even carry some of them while keeping the underwing pylons empty, gaining improved flight range and endurance.
The new rotary launcher, six of which are to be delivered in April 2016, is going to be transferrable between aircraft. Thanks to this, even though only 44 of these modified launchers are being purchased they will be available for use by all 76 aircraft as needed.
So far the launcher is able to carry 8 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) smart bombs. Future improvements of the launcher are expected to make it able to carry JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Stand Off Missile) cruise missiles and MALDs (Miniature Air Launched Decoy) decoy and jammer missiles.
This upgrade is one of a number of enhancements that the B-52H has received recently. Others include a new digital data suite, new radar, improved satellite communication system, and integration of AN/AAQ-33 Sniper targeting pod.
The B-52 is currently expected to serve until 2045, as such it is likely to receive even more upgrades, and there is even a chance that the bombers will be re-engined with modern engines, which would be a major program, and was under consideration since the mid-1970s. The new engines would even further improve the B-52H’s range and fuel efficiency.
Despite being in service since 1955, the B-52 is still the most numerous and heavily used of U.S. strategic bombers. The more modern strategic bombers, the supersonic B-1B and the stealthy B-2 have considerable advantages over the B-52 in penetrating advanced IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems) both for nuclear and conventional missions, but the B-52 has an advantage in being able to carry more conventional munitions than the other two, while being cheaper to operate. These advantages are well suited to the nature of recent conflicts, which are mostly waged against third world countries with obsolete and easily disabled air defense systems, or guerilla groups with little to no air defenses at all. In such conflicts, the advantages of the more advanced bombers are not used, while the cheaper operation of the B-52 during these long lasting conflicts does make a financial and logistical difference. --Adam Szczepanik