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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 16:59 GMT
Profile: B-52 bomber
B-52 bomber
The B-52 bomber is suited to carpet bombing
By BBC News Online's Marcus George

The monster of the skies, much feared in past conflicts around the world, is now being used against Taleban forces in Afghanistan.

America's B-52 bomber, which marks its 47th operational birthday this year, is widely expected to prop up the US Air Force well beyond the year 2045.

The bombers are officially named "stratofortresses". They are known as Big Ugly Fat Fellows, or Buffs, among US servicemen.

Vietnam War
A Hanoi museum is dedicated to the B-52's role in the Vietnam War
The planes were designed to play the lead role in the USA's long-range nuclear bomber force.

The B-52 was a product of the post-war era when America looked for a strategic bomber to replace the B-36.

Original requirements were that the new "super bomber" could carry a 10,000-pound (4536-kg) bomb load over a 5,000-mile (8047-km) range.

This had to done at a minimum of 450 miles per hour at 35,000 feet.

After eight years in development, the first of the B-52s were delivered in 1955, but the Cold War dictated the development of another seven adaptations.

Injured child
The B-52 could increase civilian casualties
Within two years designers were given the task of adapting the B-52 into a low level bomber.

New weapons and decoy missiles were introduced, as well as technological innovations in radar, radar-jamming devices and navigational aids.

The "flexible response" policy brought in during the early 1960s demanded the B-52 be capable of decisively knocking out Soviet target systems and military installation and industrial complexes.

This led to the birth of in-flight refuelling. From then on, range was up to the stamina of the crew. But the emphasis on the bomber as a major deterrent was disappearing.

In 1962, after seven years of production, the last of the B-52 rolled into use, and from then on, designers solely focused on how to adapt existing models.


B-52s were called into action in South Vietnam in 1965 to carry out Operation Arc Light, a carpet bombing campaign to provide support for South Vietnamese forces in their battle against the invading communists from the north.

The bomber's use in Vietnam led to the development of "Big Belly," a large bomb carriage able to hold a total of 60,000 pounds of explosive material.

No aircraft to date has been able to rival this capability to wage war.

Within six months, Vietnam had been saturated with bombs from more than 100 bombing missions.

Within a year, under the "saturation bombing" policy, B-52s were dropping more than 8,000 tonnes of explosives every month.

The bombers upped the stakes in 1967, carrying out more than 9,700 missions, and in 1968 the B-52s dropped nearly 60,000 tonnes of explosive.

Today, a museum dedicated to the communists' victory over the US is located in Hanoi. The exhibits show pieces of B-52 bombers which were shot down or left in Vietnam following the US withdrawal.

Gulf War

B-52s were also put into use against Iraq in 1991 as part of Operation Desert Storm.

They were used to conduct carpet bombing raids - covering an entire area with a "carpet" of bombs - against Iraqi defence sites and concentrations of troops.

The Gulf War raids led to the longest strike mission in the history of aerial warfare. B-52s left Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, launching their explosive cargo on Iraq.

They touched down in Barksdale at the end of the 16,000-mile trip 35 hours later. Eighteen hours later, the bombers were re-armed and ready for another run.


Before their deployment over Afghanistan, B-52s were most recently used in Nato operations against Yugoslavia during the Kosovo conflict.

Eleven bombers carried out 270 sorties from the UK, dropping more than 11,000 bombs on Serbian positions and Yugoslav strategic sites.

The BBC's Paul Adams
"The effects of carpet-bombing are devastating"
The BBC's Jonathan Charles in Northern Afghanistan
"This is a major intensification"


Political uncertainty






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29 Oct 01 | South Asia
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