Here’s Why The B-52 Bomber Deserves A Nice Retirement

The B-52 is a symbol of Americanism as profound as baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet, but is it cut out for the battlefield of the future?

There are few things in this world quite as satisfying as a good old-fashioned American success story, the story of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress definitely fits that description. After almost six decades as the primary front-line strategic bomber for the US military, the Stratofortress shows no signs of retirement anytime in the near future.

But is this a good thing? Is the B-52 still as fit to serve the military as it was in the days of the Cold War, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf? If the top brass at the pentagon is to be believed, it’s looking like that question was never in doubt at all. Some even argue that the bombers lifecycle could extend as far as a century, something practically unheard of

So, just for the sake of debate, let’s take a deep dive into how the B-52 became the icon it is today, but also the pros and cons of what the US plans to do with it going forward.

The B-52 is a symbol of Americanism as profound as baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet, but is it cut out for the battlefield of the future? Let’s discuss.

A Dependable And Versatile Aircraft, But Slow And Vulnerable

We all know the B-52 as the go-to strategic bomber of the US military, being capable of dropping several tonnes of high explosive munitions across a vast area, or dropping nuclear payloads if called upon to do so. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg of what this plane was capable of in its heyday. It was also a brilliant and very adaptable research testbed. In its day, both the US Air Force and NASA used the B-52 for a wide array of missions ranging from launching Scramjet and rocket-powered payloads like the X-15 rocket plane and the Lockheed D-21 hypersonic drone in preparation for use on the A-12 interceptor.

This jack-of-all-trades aircraft may have been perfect for mid to late 20th-century technology, but decades after its introduction, these airframes are starting to look worse and worse for wear as each year passes. The prospect of keeping these 185 thousand pound six-decade-old warbirds aloft for a further 40 to 50 years would present a daunting range of tasks for engineers to solve. Resources that may be put to better use designing and manufacturing a replacement.

Air Defense Networks Are Better Than Ever

It’s all well and good that the B-52 can fly in large formations and lay waste to whatever is in their path, but what happens when the enemy starts fighting back? In a modern-day scenario, or even one in the near future, the odds look pretty daunting for the B-52, especially against even a moderately equipped nation.

The latest range of Russian and Chinese-built surface-to-air missiles are faster, harder to detect, and deadlier than anything the Stratofortress saw in Vietnam, the Gulf War, or the War on Terror. Envisioning an entire formation of B-52’s being shot out of the sky victims to advanced anti-aircraft defenses is a scenario the Pentagon might do their best to try and ignore, but it’s a scenario that becomes more and more likely as the Stratofortress extends its operational lifespan more and more.

Outside of surface-to-air missiles, there’s a slew of foreign-built fighter aircraft that at least in theory capable of slipping past American defenses and wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting formation of strategic bombers. The unarmed Stratofortress would be a sitting duck up against the Russian Sukhoi SU 57 or the upcoming Chinese J-20 fighters. The U.S Air force might be wise to run a couple more in-depth military simulations before going ahead with extending the B-52’s service life even further than it’s been stretched already.

It’s Time To Let The New Guard Take The Reigns

Make no mistake, the B-52 is one of the most important aircraft not only in US military history but one of the most historically significant airplanes in the 120-year history of aviation. But the notion that it’s capable of extending its service life to a whopping century is one steeped in controversy. Meanwhile, a new generation of strategic stealth bombers is still readying to go into front-line service at this very moment in time.

The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is actually meant to supplement and eventually replace the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. But if this program is successful, don’t be surprised if it starts cutting into the B-52’s flight hours sometime in the not-so-distant future. With this in mind, it’d probably be best for the B-52 to be retired sooner rather than later. After all, there’d be no planes left to show off in museums to be preserved forever if most of them were blown out of the sky by a wayward surface-to-air missile.