View Full Version : B-52, Where Are You?

Tom Odom
04-13-2007, 05:26 PM
Found this at Slate.com. It is well worth the 5-10 minutes of reading.



B-52, Where Are You? (http://www.slate.com/id/2162791/pagenum/all/#page_start)
Why the Pentagon doesn't want you to know its bombers finally work.
By Gregg Easterbrook
Posted Monday, April 2, 2007, at 7:05 AM ET
Two decades ago in the Washington Monthly, I quipped that U.S. bombers were becoming so few that eventually they would be named after states, like battleships. So, guess what: The Air Force now names its B-2 stealth bombers after states. There's a B-2 christened the Spirit of Georgia, another the Spirit of Alaska, and so on—with no danger of running out of names, because B-2 production stopped at 21. Today, the United States has just 183 bombers in its entire arsenal, versus more than 75,000 at the peak of World War II. Currently, the Pentagon plans to spend a gasp-inducing $320 billion on thousands of new fighter jets, but has nothing budgeted for new bombers for at least another decade; the Air Force actually says the Kennedy-era B-52 bomber will remain in service until 2037—when any still capable of getting airborne will be 80 years old.

The withering away of the bomber corps reflects planning assumptions a quarter-century old. Then, the thinking was that precision-guided munitions delivered from low altitude by jet fighters would take over nearly all conventional bombing roles. As recently as a few months before 9/11, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered the mothballing of 30 B-1 bombers on the theory that they'd never be used in a modern, fighter-dominated air war anyway. Pentagon planners assumed that bombers would play a secondary role while low-flying fighters put the smart explosives on the target.

04-14-2007, 05:31 PM
I agree with the fundamental point of the article, much money is being wasted on building fighters, with all that fun but expensive performance, to drop bombs from on high.

The argument would be stronger if the article got a few more facts right. Bythe end of WW II, RAF night bombers could hit individual factories if the weather was good and they had good crews. The first laser guided bombs used in Vietnam were a godsend because they could take down bridges with only a very few sorties. And they were gravity bombs. There are many countries now with aircraft and missles equal or superior to F-15's at least (I am not too sure how they stack up to F-18E/F's, short ranged wonders that they are), which is why the F-22 is so critically needed.

The F-35 is a wonderous machine but it is, as the article says, a bomber. It will use guided weapons just as easily delivered by airplanes we have now, at least in a lower threat environment. In a high threat environment we would be better served by having more F-22's (which,from what I read, and contrary to the article will be used almost exclusively for air to air); but we can't get more F-22's because the money has to go for F-35's.

The F-35 should be made to go away but that won't happen because a lot of reputations would be unmade and a number of allies would go through the roof.

A point I think should be raised. Old men like me can fly around a B-52 waiting for a call to drive to a lat long and have the guy in back release a weapon. Now those aircraft are crewed by fit, smart, fast thinking young men who would do the United States much more good as infantry officers in the Army or Marines.

Steve Blair
04-15-2007, 03:21 PM
The other thing the article misses (although it should be said that perhaps it's outside the main thrust of the piece) is the likely cost of any "next generation" bomber. The B-2 is currently something like $2 billion per copy, and any B-3 WILL be more expensive. A quick look at the projected designs shows a myriad of stealth requirements, advanced engine systems, and all sorts of other bells and whistles (just look at the XB-70 Valkyrie, the planned follow-on to the B-52 for an historical example of this).

I don't consider the F-22 to be all that hot a design (it's BIGGER than the F-15 and has any number of problems - to include its navigation system recently shutting down because the designers hadn't taken the international date line into account), and the F-35 is clearly a mismatch for what's needed. But fighter design in the US has been roaring in this direction (stealth that might not be necessary, overly-complicated and over-priced designs, and so on), and all signs indicate that the bomber designs are matching (if not exceeding) this trend.

We do need a number of high-tech testbed aircraft (and other systems) to test new designs and concepts, but I really think it's a mistake to put all our eggs (so to speak) in this sort of basket (much like the Germans did during World War II). I'd much rather see a naval version of the A-10 come online (so the Marines will have a real CAS platform instead of the F-18) than waste more money on the F-35. Replacing the aging OH-58 fleet in the Army with an updated OH/MH-6 would also be a good start instead of designing a new (and more expensive) platform like the aborted RAH-66. We should keep designing test platforms, and using the lessons gleaned from those activities to improve our current serving systems. But basing the entire defense budget on a series of unproven and grossly over-priced airframes is not the way to go, IMO.

04-15-2007, 10:45 PM
The recent tests in Alaska seem to show that the F-22 is something close to a world beater, if the USAF is telling the truth. Size is something that must be lived with if you are to have sufficient range, enough weapons and good sensors. The SU-27 series airplanes are pretty big. The worst thing about the F-22 is it only has one seat.

I think what money we spend on tactical fighters should be spent on the F-22 rather than the F-35 because it gives us more unique capabilities. Besides it is the only thing we have in the class right now. A new design would take decades to field for exactly the reasons you mention.

I would add to the list of things we need; a new tanker fleet and continued production of the C-17.

I agree with your other points. Ref. the OH-58 replacement, it seems to me a scout helicopter is mostly a means of getting some eyes in the air. We just can't seem to do it.

04-16-2007, 08:09 AM
The US Army will NEVER field an effective, purpose-built scout vehicle, because the list of specs could never be fulfilled by anything smaller than BB-61. The "design to spec" mentality just cannot cope with the demands placed upon an Army Scout and his mission.

What we REALLY need to do is to let a group of Scouts go "shopping" among the air and ground vehicles that are currently available and let THEM select what we use.

On the issue of Stealth, the Russians are spending an immense amount of time, effort and money (especially on the internet) trying to prove that stealth is overrated, while simultaneously marketing overly maneuverable flashy aircraft with inferior electronics. This tells me that stealth in aircraft is probably UNDER-rated.

What we really need in the realm of fixed-wing assets is something in the 100-300 kt performance envelope for COIN (a multi-tasker), and a stealthy fighter/attack aircraft with two pilots.

04-16-2007, 02:39 PM
I'm really not sure why we are still pouring billions into manned tactical A/C when we can deliver ordnance on target much cheaper, with less risk, and more persistently with armed UAVs.

Rob Thornton
04-16-2007, 04:11 PM
I'm really not sure why we are still pouring billions into manned tactical A/C when we can deliver ordnance on target much cheaper, with less risk, and more persistently with armed UAVs.

Allot of it has to do with human cognitive skills and latency.

Thoughts -

In UAVs/UAS its a Texas thing - bigger is better since bigger equals more capabilities with longer hang time. It also means more overhead, and higher price tags. If you are talking at the tactical level, this means cmpetition for a limited resource. So for a BCT (Brigde Combat Team) you have a limited UAV (Shadow or maybe Hunter) with a moderate tail associated with it. Predator is a national asset which means its targets are big fish.

With an unmanned system, an operator is remoted from the system and his perspective is limited through that detachment. Whereas a pilot is immersed in his perspective - he has both the option of looking through his sensors, as well as looking out the A/C. With most sensors perspective is sort of soda-straw like. Now, if your target is relatively fixed or slow moving, the a UAS/UAV might be able to provide persistant stare fairly easy, but change that and a UAV pilot trying to fly a remote vehicle tracking a target is a skill set indeed.

Now add that to trying to interpret what he's seeing - or having an analyst do it. While some auotomated behaviors in UAVs/UAS will assist, its still difficult (I've flown a copuple of the smaller tactical UAVs - it can be a challenge to multi-task and requires a real skill set)

Now consider the latency. A 2 man scout A/C like an OH 58 is able to provide real time dialouge with no filters - i.e. a UAV pilot who tells the BCT S2 what he sees who passes it to an RTO down through the BN to the guy on the ground - mean while the situation has changed - 15 seconds is a long time on the ground - might mean the difference between engaging something you or don't want with unintended consequenses.

Also, while automated behaviors like auto target recognition and assited target recognition hold promise for things with hard angles and mechanical behaviors they are limited - consider 10 cars moving in the direction of a contact that through a UAV soda straw lead you to believe they might be enemy reinforcements, but in the greater context of the city wind up being a funeral party that is occupying the same battlespace -n the background of Iraq, the darndest, craziest things are always happening.

I worked allot with CF assets as an advisor, you learn to understand which reports are more accurate. UAV ones, were often wrong for some of the reasons above. Don't get me wrong, UAVs are better then nothing, but when I have to make real time decisions, I'll take a person up there in the cock-pit over one sitting in a TOC at the FOB any day of the week.

I worked allot of the futures stuff both in the SBCT and working with FCS. I did allot of work with robotics. If you'd like I'll send you an info paper I did for a branch periodical on pluses and minuses of technology. They are a great thing, as long as they are not used as a replcement for people where people are needed.

04-16-2007, 06:11 PM
I'm really not sure why we are still pouring billions into manned tactical A/C when we can deliver ordnance on target much cheaper, with less risk, and more persistently with armed UAVs.

Culture of the Air Force is a huge piece of this; in the AF, flyers are leaders and leaders fly (CF: The Never Ending Airpower Versus Groundpower Debate under the Military Theorists & Futurists heading). Hence the requirement to have a rated and commissioned pilot for a UAV, when the Army does quite nicely with NCOs. Especially in a role like 'on call' air support, a UAV with PGM makes a lot of sense to me. Another piece of the AF perspective is the shear number of careers tied to acquisition of manned airframes. Finally, the AF ego is based on manly men in the air in manly aircraft doing manly things. Air-to-air combat is manly, single-place fighters are manly; as you move away from these, the 'manly' factor drops off rapidly.

The acquisition of big, expensive, manned airframes is another reason we keep buying them. Where ever the manned a/c and their componenets are made, you'll find companies contributing to political campaigns and unions organizing voters...

In the grander scheme of things, UAV technology is close, but not quite ready to replace manned. Field of view is a big piece of it, as is reliability of control systems. Doctrinally, the Bn Cdr can talk to an aircraft pilot, but has UAV reports filtered is also a choke point for eliminating manned airframes. Still, as weapons delivery platforms, we're there and we should be expanding the UAV as a bomber more rapidly.

Tom Odom
04-16-2007, 07:00 PM
the latest thing--and I actually looked at the prints in my office and said "sorry guys" when I read this in Army times--to enter this discussion is the issue of air medals and distinguished flying crosses for UAV operators.

For those who don't know, the Air Medal was devised to bolster sagging morale in the 8th AF as it opened and sought to sustain the air campaign against Germany. One Air Medal meant 5 missions and 25 missions meant rotate home. You should remember that for a large part of 1943, it was statistically impossible to survive 25 missions. A DFC is for distinguished flying but it was usually connected to personal risk. My father-in-law earned 4 Air Medals as right waist on a B-17. Somehow UAV Air Medals and DFCs seems rather sterile.

As for my prints, some of the signatures include Sir Thomas Sopwith at age 100 and Lord Balfour Dr Gordon Mtchell, Under Secretary of State for Air, 1938-1944; 2 by Adolf Galland, and 100 signatures from the "Bloody 100th" Bomb Group.


08-12-2007, 08:31 PM
Agreed that putting all your eggs in one basket is a mistake, but how many baskets can the country afford, or more appropriately how many is it willing to buy and keep on funding. When not at war the country is always going to be tempted to go for the peace dividend (reducing forces, mothballing bombers, etc). It's the belief that there's a peace dividend to grab that puts us in the position we are today. How quickly could Iraq and Afghanistan be wrapped up if American forces were at the size they were just prior to the end of the cold war? Unfortunately keeping our interests secure will not be accomplished exclusively by small forces or by specific weapons systems. We need a large mixed bag to meet the challenges of tomorrow. We have to be concerned with the possibility of gearing up only for small wars and leave a window of opportunity for someone capable of waging a large war. Awfully nice to have F-22's if you're up against any of the more technologically adept nations and equally nice to have B-52s for going after those without advanced air defenses or to have sufficient soldiers to put down an insurgency. We need it all, but if we can't have it let's have whatever is the next best thing. Unfortunately what we'll get is a mixture of what we need and a pile of pork.

Dominique R. Poirier
08-12-2007, 11:39 PM
Glad to learn that B-52's will not go to junkyard soon. For this leaves me some chances to see one taking off once in my life. :)

09-05-2007, 07:33 PM
Nuke-Armed B-52 Mistakenly Flown Over U.S. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/09/05/national/main3235438.shtml?source=RSSattr=U.S._3235438)

A B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear warheads and flown for more than three hours across several states last week, prompting an Air Force investigation and the firing of one commander, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.....

....The missiles, which are being decommissioned, were mounted onto pylons on the bomber's wings and it is unclear why the warheads had not been removed beforehand....

....In addition to the munitions squadron commander who was relieved of his duties, crews involved with the mistaken load — including ground crew workers — have been temporarily decertified for handling munitions....

Tom Odom
09-05-2007, 07:36 PM
Nuke-Armed B-52 Mistakenly Flown Over U.S. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/09/05/national/main3235438.shtml?source=RSSattr=U.S._3235438)


Given the proximity to us we were talking about just how many checklists. procedures, etc were overlooked, ignored, or pencil whipped on this one :eek:

Steve Blair
09-05-2007, 07:37 PM
Yeah...and how many folks are running for cover/volunteering for forceshaping/getting out to avoid the fallout....

09-05-2007, 09:08 PM
I'm wondering if they can take off with nukes unaccounted for, then what is the status of supply accountability in the AF now? Surely the Army would call for 100% cyclic inventories for all line items....