One of America’s most formidable bombers is getting a major upgrade, and it just passed a milestone test that will soon have our enemies shaking in their boots.
Although the B-52 Stratofortress was developed and introduced over 60 years ago, this massive plane is still able to drop punishing payloads on targets that threaten the United States. With an ever-changing battlefield, however, it’s clear that this mighty bomber needs an extra edge for the 21st century.
And on May 5, during the ongoing Northern Edge military exercise taking place in Alaska through May 14, the B-52 got its chance to prove that these bombers will be relevant for many more years to come.
According to a release from the United States Air Force, the sortie began as a B-52 took off from Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base headed toward the Alaskan exercise.
As part of the test, targeting data was transmitted to the bomber from over 1,000 nautical miles away.
A target 600 nautical miles (about 690 standard miles) from the B-52 was identified, and the plane then simulated firing a hypersonic missile at the objective.
(A hypersonic missile travels at five times the speed of sound or faster, according to the military research site Defence IQ. That means it starts at 3,836 mph. The targets will never hear it coming.)
“This is a win for the U.S. Air Force and greater DOD as a whole,” 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron commander Lt. Col. Matt Guasco said of the successful exercise, “but make no mistake, we are just getting started.”
This USAF-dubbed “Beyond Line of Sight Kill Chain” gives the classic bomber some major advantages.
Primarily, this allows the B-52 to deal out some punishing firepower while remaining a relatively safe distance away.
While anti-air artillery may be able to shoot down a bomber flying a few miles above the target, downing a plane from 600 miles away is a much more monumental task.
Another benefit to the kill chain system is allowing the B-52 crew to worry less about finding and identifying targets. Specialized equipment elsewhere is now able to pick out hostiles and relay the information back to the bomber crew, who are now able to bring the pain without ever seeing the target.
As the missile speeds toward its target, the plane can then return to the safety of an airbase.
While the support system appears to be working as planned, the hypersonic missile currently in development recently suffered a setback.
According to the Air Force, during a test firing in April, a hypersonic missile failed to launch.
“While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead,” Armament Directorate Program Executive Officer Brig. Gen. Heath Collins said in a news release. “This is why we test.”
The missile is expected to be ready within the next few years.
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