For more than 40 years B-52 Stratofortresses have been the backbone of the manned strategic bomber force for the United States. The B-52 is capable of dropping or launching the widest array of weapons in the U.S. inventory. This includes gravity bombs, cluster bombs, precision guided missiles and joint direct attack munitions. Updated with modern technology the B-52 will be capable of delivering the full complement of joint developed weapons and will continue into the 21st century as an important element of our nation's defenses. Current engineering analyses show the B-52's life span to extend beyond the year 2040.
The B-52A first flew in 1954, and the B model entered service in 1955. A total of 744 B-52s were built with the last, a B-52H, delivered in October 1962. The first of 102 B-52H's was delivered to Strategic Air Command in May 1961. The H model can carry up to 20 air launched cruise missiles. In addition, it can carry the conventional cruise missile that was launched in several contingencies during the 1990s and 2000s, starting with Operation Desert Storm and culminating with Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The aircraft's flexibility was evident in Operation Desert Storm and again during Operation Allied Force. B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and decimated the morale of Iraq's Republican Guard. From Sept. 2 to 3, 1996, two B-52H's struck Baghdad power stations and communications facilities with 13 AGM-86C conventional air launched cruise missiles, or CALCMs, as part of Operation Desert Strike. At that time, this was the longest distance flown for a combat mission involving a 34-hour, 16,000 statute mile round trip from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
In 2001, the B-52 contributed to the success in Operation Enduring Freedom, providing the ability to loiter high above the battlefield and provide close air support through the use of precision guided munitions.
The B-52 also played a role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. On March 21, 2003, B-52Hs launched approximately 100 CALCMs during a night mission.
Only the H model is still in the Air Force inventory. It is assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, both of which fall under Air Force Global Strike Command; and to the Air Force Reserve Command's 307th Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base.