B-52 Fighter?

Had a little idea.

In some mission which requires F-15s or -16s or -111As
that’l fire a bunch of Tomahawks and/or Sidewinder Missles at
a ground target, why not use one B-52 bomber LOADED TO THE
GILLS with missles?

Load the underside of the wings and the bomb bay with HUNDREDS of units of ordnance…and carpet bomb the target
with flaming death.

What advantage/disadvantage would this method have over a
squadron of dedicated fighter craft?

Well, we already deploy cruise missiles from B-52s, and I’m unaware of our doing so from F-15s or -16s.

Don’t put all your bombs in one basket. Equipping a single plane with a huge amount of ordnance takes away all your mission flexibility. One of the more common missions early in the Gulf War was the destruction of mobile SAM sites. The F-16 is well suited to search-and-destroy, while a B-52 is not fast or manueverable enough to chase down a moving target, and has limited ability to dodge incoming missiles and enemy fighters. Also, B-52s can’t launch off aircraft carriers. They require land bases, which makes them less suitable for emergency deployments.

Though building up superbombers isn’t very workable, the U.S. Navy is contemplating an Arsenal Ship, a low-profile vessel packed to the gills with 500 Tomahawks. Computerized control would reduce the necessary number of crew, and the ship could even be sent in unmanned to unleash large-scale death across a hostile nation.

Already been done…

That was/is the whole idea of the Joint Direct Attack Munition and the Stand-off Attack Missile, among other systems: Load up a B-1, B-2, or B-52 with 50,000 pounds of guided ordnance, and let fly.

One of the problems with the JDAM is crappy batteries. Bench failure rates for this systems is extremely high. The bomb that missed and killed the Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan most likely missed because the guidance system batteries failed and the bomb went ballistic (unguided), and hit whatever was in front of it.

Of course, if you really get your jollies watching carpet-bombing, go to Metal Storm and watch the video of their Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV). If they manage to sell these jaw-dropping babies to the Navy or Air Force, God help us all.

AFAIK, the Arsenal Ship concept has been rejected by the Navy for two reasons: 1) you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket, creating a very high value target that you need to protect, and more importantly, 2) there are already many more VLS cells afloat than the Navy can fill with missiles. If you already have ships steaming around with empty cells, adding 500 more empty cells doesn’t add to your offensive capability. Better to spend the money on missile procurement if there is a need for more offensive power at sea.



The B-52 main role is carpet bombing. B-52s carry something like 50,000 pounds of ordenance and a squadren of them can pretty much destroy almost anything. Just look at what happened during Desert Storm. When the airwar started B-52s started bombing the hell out of Iraqi positions and just devestated their tank force and their morale. I can’t find the cite (possibly Clancy), but I remember reading an Army general say that the war was over so quickly because the B-52s were so effective in their bombing runs.

Bombing like that is great and is a necessary feature of war, but B-52 become impracticle for other types of bombing. B-52s aren’t accurate or fast enough to provide close support to troops in a tactical situation (i.e. dropping bombs on enemy lines in close proximity to US troops) therefore the Air Force has F-16s, A-10s, F-15Es and other planes for those kinds of missions.

The F-15E is the only F-15 model with the ability to drop air-to-ground ordinance, the F-15C is an interceptor optimized for air-to-air combat.

The Sidewinder is a short-range (~15 miles) heat-seeking air-to-air missile. It can’t be used to attack ground targets.

None of the Air Force tactical aircraft (F-117, A-10. F-16, F-15) are able to fire the Tomahawk. IIRC correctly, the B-52 is the only Air Force plane capable of firing that missile and that ability was only added so that the Navy wouldn’t be the only service capable of using cruise missiles (again IIRC, please let me know if I am mistaken).

Finally, the F-111 is no longer in active service with the Air Force, but I think that Enola probably meant the F-117.

On closer examination, you’re right. The program was killed in early 1997 but:

The Arsenal Ship concept could be reborn, but only if a series of military budget cuts scaled back the ability to build carriers. After Sept 11, this doesn’t seem very likely.

An arsenal ship would have been useful for a large-scale attack on a hostile nation (i.e. Iraq), but they’re are a lot less effective against landlocked nations like Afghanistan. In any event, they have the same vulnerabilities as a bomber packed with missiles. One successful enemy attack and poof! There goes a big (and expensive) chunk of your offensive capability.

Tranquilis: 60 Minutes did a piece on the bad battery issue in JDAMs a while back. It seems to be related to “lowest bidder”.

The OP asks among other things why not put Sidewinders (AIM-9)on a B-52 and make a fighter out of it. AIM-9s have a limit to their range, and in a larger and relatively unmanuverable aircraft (compared to more conventional notions of a “fighter” aircraft), the “FB-52” couldn’t get itself positioned relative to the target aircraft to successfully lock and launch. It also couldn’t get itself OUT of an attacking aircraft’s envelope to evade being a target.

Unless I misunderstood the OP… which is possible, because the USAF and USN seem to have had historically different notions as to what a “Fighter” aircraft is.

US Navy “F” for Fighters (F-1, F-4, F-8, F-9, etc.) have been principally or even exclusively designed for air-to-air combat, while Navy aircraft that drop bombs on surface targets were “A” for Attack aircraft (A-1, A-4, A-3, A-6, A-7, etc.). This isn’t to say that occasionally fighters such as the F-8 weren’t used in (or later in their service lives adapted to) the attack role, though.

For some reason, the US Air Force has avoided “A” attack aircraft with the exception of the A-10, and their “F” designated “fighters” have included aircraft poorly or totally unsuited to air-to-air combat, but much better suited to the attack-bombing role: F-105, F-111 (later redesingated the FB-111), etc. Maybe it has to do with their clinging to the idea of long-range manned bombers like the B-36, B-47, and B-52. With “B” bombers, “A” attack seems perhaps redundant?

Anyway, it’s only recently with budget cuts and multi-role electronic technology (and some really high power engines) that we see aircraft that actually are good at both the air-to-air role and the ground attack role. Some people would debate the FA-18 as such, but the F-16 and F-15E do pretty well.

With The J/TSSAM, the JSOW, JDAM, and other packages, the B-52 can be as precise as you want it to be. The big issue is that if it’s not in-theater when you need it, you need to call on the fast movers, or the artillery. If it is in-theater, it can loiter for a fair while, carrying up to 30 JSOWs, liberally blasting anything you want hit for thousands of square miles. Unpowered, the JSOW has a range of 12nm, allowing it to precisesly hit any target in a ~450 square mile area from point of launch. Add in a 50 mile orbit for the BUFF, and you’re talking 4300 square miles. For most precise use, you need a guy on the ground with a laser, but that’s common enough anyway.

Large quantities of precision weapons were/are being dropped from B-52s in Afghanistan.

If you’re into carpet bombing don’t forget about FAE (Fuel Air Explosive)

Type of bomb that releases an explosive gas over a certain area, and then detonates it. I think it is notably effective at getting at people in caves (sucks up the oxygen if I remember right)

JCHeckler, I missed that segment. I got my reports on the JSOW from the guys who maintain them.

To fire “fighter” AA missles (like Sidewinders) you are in a short-range situation, usually sub 10 miles. Piloting a B52 within 10 miles of armed enemy fighters without its own fighter escorts left defending itself would not be an enviable job. The smaller fighters have a far better shot at outmanouvering your missles than you would theirs. I’d give life expectancy of about 30 seconds in that situation to the B52 pilot (give or take… probably more likely take… )

That being said, they already do launch the ground munitions already mentioned… and are quite good at it, too.



BTW - When I say “Fighter” missles like sidewinders, I mean heatseekers. AMRAAMs can be fired from further out of course, but I would still give the nod to the Fighter spoofing those before the BUFF.

Just fly me in a gunship, baby!

Just like fuckin’ Saigon, eh, Slick?

I’ll address one point at a time. First of all, as mentioned earlier, the AIM-9 Sidewinder is an air-to-air missile. Tomahawk cruise missiles are long range (100+ mile) missiles, and B-52’s already carry an air-launched cruise missile. They can also be launched by Navy ships, B-2’s and B-1’s. Cruise missiles like the Tomahawk are too large and heavy for use on a fighter. Sounds like you might wanna do a little more reading about weapons systems. Various books by Bill Gunston might give you a good idea of the capabilities of modern air weapons.

Weapons mounted on the wings of a B-52 must be loaded onto specific “hard points” that are designed to support ordinance. Using underwing pylons which can carry a total of 24 500lb bombs, the maximum load out for a B-52 is 108 500lb bombs. The B-52 can use these 108 bombs to carpet bomb, destroying everything in a strip 100 yards wide by 1/2 mile long. B-52’s can also launch Harpoon missiles for coastal defense, or use the afore-mentioned air-launched cruise missle (ALCM). Recently, they have added the AGM-142 Raptor missile to their arsenal, enabling long-range direct attack of fixed ground targets.

The only air-to-air capability the B-52 had was the tail gun on the D model, which actually shot down a couple of MiGs in VietNam. Current models do not mount a tail gun.

The advantage of a squadron of dedicated fighters is that they can fight their way in, drop their ordinance, and fight their way out. Dedicated heavy bombers cannot fight their way past enemy air assets - they have to either sneak in (like the B-2) or operate in areas where we own the air.

As for the F-15 not being able to drop bombs unless it’s an F-15E, poppycock. It drops them just as well as an F-4 or an early model (pre LANTIRN) F-16. The F-15E Strike Eagle was a modification to turn an excellent fighter with decent bombing capability into a true fighter/bomber. I think maybe rivit was thinking of the Navy’s F-14, which only recently has been able to drop bombs, being a dedicated interceptor for most of its operational life. Granted, it’s no longer routine to drop iron from an F-15C, but the capability is still there and was used quite often before the E model came along. They’re generally hung from the wing pylons on A thru C models, wheres the F-15E carrys a greater bomb load using the wing and fuselage hard points to mount them.

Of course, in that first paragraph, the “they” that can be launched by Navy ships etc. is the Tomahawk cruise missile, not the B-52.

I finally got around to looking at those vidoes (they’re freekin’ HUGE!), and the one that grabbed my attention is the 36-barrel prototype, firing at cyclic rates up to 1,000,000 rounds per minute (not a typo!). Holy cow! (a very hole-y cow, if it’s down-range!)

The biggest issues I see with this technology are:

  • Sustained fire. You can only make these arrays so large, and the more rounds and higher ROF you wish to have, the larger the array becomes, quickly becoming too damn big for any practical purpose. Smaller ones are less useful than a machinegun in most situations. 1,000,000 rmp, 180 shots? That’s no better than firing a single 90mm cannister round. No wait… It’s not even that good!
  • Reloading. That looks to be highly impractical with this technology.

It’s a niche product, for when you need high ROF in a very simple, throw-away package. It might be usefull for disposable guns that have to stay in storage for decades (survival equipment), or maybe in outerspace, but in most applications, traditional weapons are better suited.