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Sixty Years On, B-52s Are Still Going Strong

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the staying-power dept.

The Military 403

Hugh Pickens writes "Those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s knew the B-52 Stratofortress as a central figure in the anxiety that flowed from the protracted staring match between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Now CNET reports that it was 60 years ago, on April 15, 1952, that a B-52 prototype built by Boeing took off on its maiden flight and although the 1950s-vintage B-52s are no longer in the US Air Force inventory, the 90 or so H models delivered between May 1961 and October 1962 still remain on active duty. 'The B-52 has been a wonderful flying box,' says retired Brig. Gen. Peyton Cole. 'It's persevered all these years because it's been able to adapt and still continues to fly. It started out as a high-level flying platform during the Cold War. Then as air defenses got better it became a low-level penetrator, and more than that was the first aircraft to fly low-level at night through FLIR (forward looking infrared) and night-vision TV.' The B-52's feat of longevity reflects both regular maintenance and timely upgrades — in the late 1980s, for instance, GPS capabilities were incorporated into the navigation system but it also speaks to the astronomical costs of the next-generation bombers that have followed the B-52 into service (a total of 744 were built, counting all models) with the Air Force. B-52s cost about $70 million apiece (in today's dollars), while the later, stealth-shaped B-2 Spirit bombers carried an 'eye-watering $3-billion-a-pop unit price.' The Air Force's 30-year forecast, published in March, envisions an enduring role for the B-52 and engineering studies, the Air Force says, suggest that the life span of the B-52 could extend beyond the year 2040. 'At that point, why not aim for the centennial mark?'"

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B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698587)

Wikipedia quotes the unit cost at under $750m introductory in 1997, and with current inflation just over $1b. Where did the $3b number come from?

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

LeperPuppet (1591409) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698607)

It could be the $750m unit cost plus a share of the total R&D costs, then inflated to current day dollars.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (2)

ericloewe (2129490) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698615)

As far as I've heard, the cost in today's dollars would be ~$1,5 billion - ~$2 billion, depending on serial number (costs go down as you build more of them), which should include R&D

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

Barny (103770) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698653)

Possibly some prices are including just the fuselage and the R&D for it, whereas others might include the cost to have them fully loaded with ordinance and equipment as well.

Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698747)

No doubt some World War I planes are still airworthy, but to extend the lifespan of B-52s beyond 2040 and still expect it to be used for military bombing raid --- this is lunacy to the max !!

Just to save a penny or two they are going to put the lives of the boys and girls flying those planes

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (4, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698801)

Unless there is another piston-to-jet style sea change in airborne combat, I don't see why the B-52 wouldn't be used for its primary mission in the next 28 years.

After all, the C-130 is still being produced brand new, despite the basic design being only two years younger than the B-52!

Carrying X amount of bombs to target Y doesn't change much over the years - once suppression of the air defences is secured, it doesn't matter if you send in a Boeing 747 with a midget pushing Obama-For-2008! badges out a door, the risk is going to be the same.

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (5, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698897)

Carrying X amount of bombs to target Y doesn't change much over the years

At a given altitude and given airspeed and given mission size / bomb weight, there's an optimum airframe shape. That shape is the B-52. You could make a new bomber to do the same mission. It would look exactly like a B-52.

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (5, Funny)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698965)

That shape is the B-52.

No, that shape is Chuck Norris. He just lets the B-52 have all the glory.

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (4, Insightful)

neyla (2455118) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699033)

I doubt that, unless you add more constraints. Optimum in what sense ? Speed ? Durability ? Range ? Load-capacity ? Fuel-efficiency ? Price ?

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (4, Interesting)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699143)

Maybe not exactly like it. Maybe a BWB or flying wing might have better payload/range, considering that the replacement would be able to be made more aerodynamic due to the availability of more powerful computational devices than a slide rule. However, possibly not that much better that the investment is going to be worth it.

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (5, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699075)

Nope. Remove the flight crew. Drones will do this work. I would not be surprised to see the BWB/X-48 be developed and then used for such a mission. The advantage is that it would require a fraction of the fuel, while being able to carry a bigger load. Add a small band of drone fighters around it and issues solved.

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39699081)

Actually -- they are so worn out that their bomb load is less than 30% of the original. Yup, Aluminum wears out when repeatedly stressed. When you decide you want to cry, the CO2 cost of the B-1 and B-2 are substantially lower per ton of bombs dropped. If we hadn't let the politicians lie to us, we could have had a newer fleet for a much lower cost. Though the unit cost is around $1.5B in current costs, the operational costs are an order of magnitude or more (how deeply do you dig into the AF budget) higher.

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (4, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699057)

It will not need to. At this point, we will no doubt be making heavy use of drones. My guess is that within 10 years, most of our bombing runs will be via drones.

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (2)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699095)

It will not need to. At this point, we will no doubt be making heavy use of drones. My guess is that within 10 years, most of our bombing runs will be via drones.

So now we know what the next refit for the B-52 will be. They'd be bloody big drones - if the remote control apparatus weighs less than the crew-related equipment, the armaments or fuel could even increase....

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699153)

I don't think so. My guess is that we will instead see us develop the B-48/BWB as a drone bomber. Possibly even as a drone and tanker cargo craft. It really makes sense to use drones for carrying bombs, cargo, and fuel.

Re:Extend the lifespan of B-52 beyond 2040? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39699113)

this is lunacy to the max !!

But does it have zero sugar?!
If the mechanics and the management do their jobs and fix the microscopic cracks in the airframe in a due manner and if the aliens - whether their speak Chinese or not - don't invade, I think the boys and girls are relatively safe. Who knows, maybe the Air Force buys some supercomputing time just to model the fitness and longevity of the platform, and if a breakthrough in the material sciences is made, the resulting innovations are incorporated into the platform.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (4, Interesting)

paiute (550198) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698799)

I get nervous driving a new car which costs in the neighborhood of $20K. I can't imagine the stress of flying a billion-dollar aircraft. If you have a major problem and are about to punch out, does the thought that you are about to burn a BILLION DOLLARS cross your mind?

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698851)

Not if you're trained properly.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (5, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698923)

does the thought that you are about to burn a BILLION DOLLARS cross your mind

That's a question for the politicians who built it and "paid" for it, not the pilots.

My grandfather crashed a B-17 in free-at-that-time France, from his stories he was worried a hell of a lot more about fire and impact, than about who would pay the bill. It all turned out well in the end for everyone in the crew, probably because he worried more about being a pilot than doing accountant work.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

GrahamCox (741991) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699039)

My grandfather crashed a B-17 in free-at-that-time France

How can that be? France was invaded in 1940, before the US and its B-17s were in the war, and was liberated in 1945 with the rest of Europe. Are you saying he crashed in peace time? Sounds a bit careless.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (3, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699059)

My grandfather crashed a B-17 in free-at-that-time France

How can that be? France was invaded in 1940, before the US and its B-17s were in the war, and was liberated in 1945 with the rest of Europe. Are you saying he crashed in peace time? Sounds a bit careless.

Lots of crashes during training, if there weren't, we wouldn't need to train so much, would we?

Seriously, though, a whole lot of time spent in the air during peace time can be just as hazardous as a single mission during wartime.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39699071)

Yeah, because all crashes are caused by pilot error in peace time...

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (0)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699091)

Still not early enough to support the claim made in the parents post, but its worth noting that the B-17 entered service with the RAF in 1940, before the USA joined the war.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

bsane (148894) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699093)

All of Europe was liberated at the same time?

The first parts of France would have been free on June 6th, 1944. I guess it didn't live in infamy as long as some people thought.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699107)

My grandfather crashed a B-17 in free-at-that-time France

How can that be? France was invaded in 1940, before the US and its B-17s were in the war, and was liberated in 1945 with the rest of Europe. Are you saying he crashed in peace time? Sounds a bit careless.

There is no contradiction inherent in GP's post. Parts of France were liberated in 1944; other parts were not liberated until 1945. The war and bombing (B-17, B-24, Lancaster, etc.) continued into 1945.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

gtvr (1702650) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699109)

Europe wasn't "instantly" liberated - our Army had to push from the beaches through France and into Germany. Obviously there was an ever-growing part of France that was free between June 6 '44 and 5/7/45.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698631)

The Wikipedia cite is all screwed up. If you look at the citation for unit cost, it's a GAO report from 14 Aug 1997 that lists an estimated per-unit cost of $2.131 billion in 1996 dollars.

The Wikipedia article also cites the same document for program costs through *2004*. I'm guessing we've spent some additional funds between 1997 and 2004....

Wikipedia: worth every penny you paid to get it.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

pryoplasm (809342) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698661)

There was also the B-2 that crashed in Guam. That resplit the R&D costs from a little over $2B to the nearly $3B we know of now.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698679)

Doesn't work like that - amortized costs work over the number of airframes delivered, not the number currently in service.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (5, Informative)

Gideon Wells (1412675) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698637)

Using Wikipedia, scroll down and you'll get this gem: "The total program cost projected through 2004 was US$44.75 billion in 1997 dollars. This includes development, procurement, facilities, construction, and spare parts. The total program cost averaged US$2.13 billion per aircraft." If you use the $.737 billion in 1997 = $1.07 billion today with inflation as a guide, and apply it to the $2.13 billion you will get ~$3 billion.

So it cost twice the cost of the entire fleet just to research, develop and build the facilities needed to build these fighters. Though originally there was supposed to be another hundred of these things made instead of 21. Had the full fleet of 32 been constructed the price per B-2 would have plummitted to a total cost of ~$1.25 billion per craft in "todays" dollars, but the cost around have been another ~$111 billion inflated adjusted dollars for the project as a whole.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

Gideon Wells (1412675) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698639)

Typo, full fleet of 132 B-2s, not 32.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (2)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698645)

The originally requested B-2 fleet size was well over a hundred, but it suffered large cuts due to the weakening state of the Soviet Union in the 1980s and 1990s.

Thats where the $3Billion price point came in - a large programme to build a large fleet, cut down at the last minute to a small fleet which had to bear all the costs rather than having them amortized over a larger unit figure.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (4, Interesting)

AtomicSnarl (549626) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698781)

By comparison, a unit cost for a Boeing 747-8 is around $330 Million, vs the around $1,000 Million for a full production run B-2. Just remember the 747 cost does not include the R&D costs of the decade it took to develop the design and build the factory, etc, whereas the full R&D cost is part of the B-2 cost. If you strip out the development costs, a B-2 airframe runs around $600 M, roughly twice the 747 costs for an aircraft with much, much more, very specialized capability. Overall, not a bad price for what it can do - haul 20+ tons of weapons 8,000+ miles unrefuled, invisibly, and hit a 3 foot circle. Many of them.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (3, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698835)

I'm not sure why you think certain costs are included in one price and not in another - the Boeing 747-8 is a derivative of an already profitable aircraft line, one which had brand new tooling, manufacturing and a factory built just for it. The costs were there, just included in the Boeing 747-100 rather than the current derivative - Boeing doesn't get to charge the costs of the factory to the fairies and imps, they have to be borne by the commercial products just as much as the DoD have to bear the cost of the R&D for their projects.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (2)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699051)

hit a 3 foot circle

That's the bit that often fails with the euphamistic phrase 'collateral damage'

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (4, Interesting)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699069)

I made circuit breakers for B1s - over $1000 a pop, compared to about $600 for similar units for other planes, price difference mostly due to low volume.

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698683)

Its also worth noting that Boeing offered the USAF brand new "Model B" B-2s around 2005 for $350Million a pop...

Re:B-2 Spirit unit price - $3b? Said who? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39699047)

$3B, or about the cost of a restaurant lunch for every man, woman and child in the U.S.

Iis a little old place where we can get together.. (5, Funny)

RenHoek (101570) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698589)

In other news, the B-52's from 'Love Shack' fame, are still going strong after 36 years..

Re:Iis a little old place where we can get togethe (1)

gsslay (807818) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698633)

But it wasn't a rock.
It was a rock lobster!

Let this be a warning to us all.

Re:Iis a little old place where we can get togethe (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698693)

Yeah, I thought the article was about the rock group. I suddenly felt old, very, very old. Fortunately, it's not that bad. I'm just old.

Re:Iis a little old place where we can get togethe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698847)

In other news, the B-52's from 'Love Shack' fame, are still going strong after 36 years..

You're forgetting to add the additional cost of a hammer and screwdriver. :)

It probably makes sense. (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698617)

I guess the USAF expects to have the better fighter jets in the decades to come, so they will maintain air superiority - and then, it doesn't matter that your bombers are 80 year old tech. They probably consider this a more viable option than counting on the expensive B-2 being purchased in large numbers.

Disclaimer: I am not an aviation or army expert. This is just something I was thinking about and you are welcome to extend or correct my thoughts.

Re:It probably makes sense. (1)

saddlark (96399) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698621)

... and even if the opponent has a working anti-aircraft defence, the B-52's can be used as a launch platform for long range missiles.

Re:It probably makes sense. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698659)

This is exactly why 60 year old tech is still flying as a bomber. Air power is still king in conventional warfare, and once you've sent in your fleet of high-tech air-superiority and multirole/ground-attack fighters to clean out the AA threats, all you really require next is a very large flying tube that holds a lot of bombs. Hence, the B-52 is still around. You don't need a fancy stealth bomber because penetrating enemy airspace is better left to smaller stealthier craft - or you ignore the airplane altogether and use a cruise missile.

If you think about it, the B-2 is the real antique here. The B-52 is just practical.

Re:It probably makes sense. (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698705)

This is exactly why 60 year old tech is still flying as a bomber. Air power is still king in conventional warfare, and once you've sent in your fleet of high-tech air-superiority and multirole/ground-attack fighters to clean out the AA threats, all you really require next is a very large flying tube that holds a lot of bombs. Hence, the B-52 is still around. You don't need a fancy stealth bomber because penetrating enemy airspace is better left to smaller stealthier craft - or you ignore the airplane altogether and use a cruise missile.

If you think about it, the B-2 is the real antique here. The B-52 is just practical.

This was the gist of my post, though not as explicit and detailed :D

Re:It probably makes sense. (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698761)

The B-1 works better for that purpose. If you need a flying bomb truck, a B-1 can cover a much larger area due to its speed. A B-52 would be there in hours, while a B-1 can be there in minutes. This is very important for soldiers on the ground who need air support NOW. All of Afghanistan - a quite large area - can be covered by a single B-1.

Re:It probably makes sense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698787)

But you can put four or five B-52s in the air for the per-flight-hour cost of the B-1, or more fighters for even better coverage. The B-1 is a maintenance nightmare....

Re:It probably makes sense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698907)

And with load-out including the wing hardpoints, a B-52 is worth at least two B-1s in ordinance capacity. As far as the airframe goes, it's somewhat optimal at doing the job of delivering the most ordinance on target over long distances. Nothing can beat it in missions where carpet bombing is the desired option, which is part of why they're still using it. (A combination of KISS and "If it ain't broke..." applies.)

Now if you want surgical strikes? Use a fighter jet.

Re:It probably makes sense. (4, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699141)

The B-1B flies at 725 knots, while the B-52 is at 560. Less than 50% faster.
However, a Bone's radius is around 5000 km, while the Buff's is around 7000 KM.
The real advantage is that a Bone's payload is almost double what a Buff's is (120K vs. 70K lbs).

But as to the area, nope. Buff has the advantage. And considering that the Bone is expected for nukes, we would not really like one shot down over Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iran. As it is, China has stolen far too much of our tech.

Re:It probably makes sense. (3, Interesting)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698669)

All modern airforces play the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences) game with a large amount of seriousness - the JSF will take over a large amount of that role when it eventually enters service (well, chances are the F-35B will be relegated to second day ops as its bring-back performance is derisory at best), but the B-1B is quite often tasked with it these days (a B-1B armed with a sniper pod is an awesome weapon).

The F-16 is used a lot in the wild weasel role these days as well.

Re:It probably makes sense. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698709)

But the B-1B is still so expensive, even the Air Force doesn't want them anymore. It's running something like 60-80K per flight hour, with maintenance costs way higher than expected.

Re:It probably makes sense. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698695)

If you already have control of the airspace you don't need the stealth the B2 has, and the B2 has a disadvantage from an aerodynamic perspective - it requires computers to keep it under control at all times. The B52 is an example of the KISS strategy - it's rough but the only brain it really needs is the pilots so if something happens then it's up to the pilot to do his best. And computers has a tendency to age quickly - what was state of the art a decade ago is ancient today, and spare parts are hard to get for old computers.

Strip the B52 of all computing and it can still fly and even get the job done, strip any modern aircraft of all computing and you have a brick. That's why the B52 will be a viable option for a long time to come. Add to it the fact that it's a strong and flexible platform that can be assigned to carry a lot of stuff, not only nukes.

Re:It probably makes sense. (5, Informative)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698755)

The basic model is now 60 years old, the oldest flying ones 50 years. But that doesn't make them 50-60 year old tech. The models will have received many modifications over time; look at the commercial Boeing 737 airliner with it's many sub-versions and modifications. A newly delivered model looks quite different from the first model, and that's just the outside.

On the inside, all the electronics will have been retrofitted several times over by now. Newer radios, navigation systems, etc. They all have GPS now, which didn't exist when the first B52 flew. Engines too, if only because they wear out over time. And then you will use a more modern, better engine to put in place of the old ones. Ongoing modernisation.

By the way, one of the main specs of an aircraft is it's top speed. The faster you are, the faster you can get in, do your job, and get out, outmanouvring a slower opponent in the meantime. However there is this thing called the sound barrier, limiting most aircraft to about 85-90% of the speed of sound. To go radically faster you need a radically different design of the plane, and a lot more engine power (so burning more fuel), for a generally smaller payload. The same for the B-52, it's speed is limited by the sound barrier, and any newer heavy bomber will have the same problem.

This also explains why, over the last 40 years or so, commercial aircraft have not received any speed increases (the Concorde being an exception - and underlining the problems of breaking the sound barrier).

Re:It probably makes sense. (5, Interesting)

smpoole7 (1467717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698967)

> But that doesn't make them 50-60 year old tech

Good point and well said.

But as for the airframe ... as long as they can confirm that the fuselage is sound and in good shape, there's no reason why they can't continue to fly. The truth is, even before computer modeling, the "best" shapes for both subsonic and supersonic craft were pretty well determined. They had to use wind tunnels and physical modeling to arrive at (for example) the familiar-looking rounded nose, the swept wings and so on. What the computer models do nowadays is (a) confirm that the people who came up with these basic airframe shapes in the 50's were surprisingly good[g] and (b) add refinements. Unless you're building a completely-new design (such as a stealthed aircraft), the tried-and-true designs that were arrived at in the 50's and 60's work just fine.

Take a look at an older 707 and compare it to the latest Dreamliner. The planform looks quite similar. The newer design uses composites and other enhancements, but unless you're looking closely, the shape of the airframe is quite similar on both. Why mess with success?

(In fact, with commercial aircraft, it's common to develop a basic design, then introduce subsequent models that "stretch" it for more seating, or change engines for better performance. Why re-invent the wheel?)

Re:It probably makes sense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698783)

Airplanes are in general obsolete for first strike in contested skies or will be shortly, the last time they were used in that role were doing the Falkland conflict, and that was a haphazard high risk operation using now decommissioned planes, as most military strategist prefer cruise missiles and ICMB's for the tasks previously assigned to the long range strategic bombers.

And for air superiority there is a similar trend away from airplanes and towards missile batteries. the primary roles of aircraft today is close air support for mechanized infantry facing heavy armor or artillery, or tasks previously given to artillery divisions. And that requires low flying fast aircraft's optimally with some kind of radar resilience(but as your going to be within visibly range of the defenders half the time it's less of an advantage then advertized).

The problem is also that the B-2's are just as dead when spotted by a 4th generation fighter, or anything capable of defending against them for that matter then a b-52 so there's no real point to spending the extra 2bn, for what is basically a a launch platform for cruise missiles, that will never enter a hot battle zone.

B-52 in Airframe Only (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698629)

The B-52 may have the same airframe as those of the 1960's, but the aircraft is continuously retrofitted with the latest fly-by-wire and navigation/communication technology, and is capable of accepting newer and more efficient engines. For the role they play as a heavy bomber/delivery system (and in situations that do not warrant usage of expensive stealth technology or have additional fighter support), they are still quite effective in that role today.

Drop the pilots (0)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698641)

Part of the expense it putting the space and equipment necessary to carry the flight crew. These missions are lasting nearly a day at times for targets across the globe. With the ever increasing abilities of drones to deliver munitions on target the Air Force needs to have its collective hiney kicked into the current century. Where the Navy is still stuck on carriers the Air Force is stuck on manned bombers.

The nice thing about going with a drone based system is that you could theoretically just change the scale of the solution to the needs of the mission. The hard work is developing a secure and reliable connection to the remote driver. Drones delivering low tech loads could do without a lot of fancy tech whereas that tech can be concentrated on special purpose penetration bombers.

Yeah the best route would be to end all war, but as we read daily the world is just full of people who want nothing more than to blow up everyone not like them. We have our own bunch here, usually identified by whichever party is in power. Unfortunately for the world there are even crazier ones elsewhere.

Re:Drop the pilots (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698879)

It's pretty difficult to make a stealth platform out of something that is constantly transmitting regardless of how secure and reliable that connection is. If your solution is to make the drone-based system autonomous (no communications required), then you might as well skip the whole drone bomber platform altogether and just use ballistic missiles.

Re:Drop the pilots (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698979)

For reliability if someone's trying to jam you and minimum latency, you'd want to have the pilot in a simulator in the back of an AWACS nearby. Put the thing in a computer-controlled autopilot to where it needs to be, then wake the pilot and get him in the simulator to take over and complete the mission.

The real problem is the cost of everything. It costs too much to kill an enemy. Sure, a million dollar bomb delivered by a billion dollar aircraft is safer than getting close enough for a one dollar bullet, but there's the cost, is it really worth it?

Re:Drop the pilots (3, Interesting)

neyla (2455118) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699117)

It's worth it in a democracy. The US public has substantially larger patience with a war costing a gazillion dollars than they do, over time, with coffins arriving in a steady stream.

Killing american soldiers who walk around on the ground is a lot easier to do than killing those that are in planes many kilometres up, or that control drones from dozens of miles away.

The only way to beat the US military at the moment is to take away their support at home in the USA. Make Americans demand that they come home. Beating them on the field of battle is not currently reasonably possible for any nation. This ain't surprising given that the expenditures are larger than for the next 3 runners-up combined.

Why be stealthy? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698651)

When your enemies live in caves and fire small arms it actually pays to fill their sky with the contrails of your bomber for hours on end. The Taliban can't shoot back at a B-52 so there is no need to hide.

Rock Lobster (-1, Redundant)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698673)

Sorry... it was almost obligatory.

Re:Rock Lobster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698691)

And already posted ten minutes earlier.

Re:Rock Lobster (0)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698717)

That was Love Shack. The meme is definitely Rock Lobster.

Re:Rock Lobster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698737)

No. Rock Lobster was posted ten minutes earlier..

Re:Rock Lobster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698827)

You mean this?:http://tech.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2788329&cid=39698633
That's just some poor confused soul not knowing the difference between Love Shack and Rock Lobster.
However it was posted earlier and 'Rock Lobster' was in the text of the post...

60 years of raining death and destruction (-1, Troll)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698699)

is not something to celebrate

13. And he does great wonders, so that he makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men

Re:60 years of raining death and destruction (4, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698713)

How about 60 years of western freedom, which was guaranteed by things like this?

Re:60 years of raining death and destruction (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698753)

How about reality, which is somewhere in the middle of the extremes you guys are throwing around?

US Propaganda. (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698763)

How about 60 years of western freedom, which was guaranteed by things like this?

How?

The Soviets were really afraid of our ICBMs and especially our balistic submarines because they could get to target in 30minutes or less. Our submarine force was the real Cold War heros.

And today? Keeping up free from whom? The Chinese?

Oh and let me tell you about how our Air Force and Army will hold up against the Chinese - they couldn't. They will just out number us with shear quanitity. Whiz bang jet fighters? Bombers? Etc?

They'll just come at us wave after wave with cheap shit until we run out of bullets and missles. Then as we're going to reload, they'll shoot us in the ass.

When I read comments such as yours, it just reminds me that we here in the US are subjected to as much propaganda as any tolitarian state.

We're fighting for FREEDOM in [insert country here].

Afghanistan? Not freedom. Like the Taliban or Al-Qaeda could take our Freedom away (Our Government is doing quite well on its own thank you very much.) No, it was just about knocking out an adversary; which I have no problem with. But let's cut the horseshit of "Fighting for our Freedom!", OK. It just cheapens what folks have done in the past who really fought for our freedoms.

Re:US Propaganda. (3, Interesting)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698849)

If there ever was a war with China, it would probably be lost by the US's unwillingness to create mass casualties. We'd have to kill hundreds of millions, and the only way that would be acceptable was if it was an all-out invasion-and-enslave type of war.

Re:60 years of raining death and destruction (5, Insightful)

MachDelta (704883) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698765)

Western freedom:
Decades of defense by B-52's
Murdered one day by a quartet of 757/767's

Re:60 years of raining death and destruction (-1)

yvesdandoy (44789) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698805)

Talking about "reality distorsion field", why don't you rather say "US egemony" instead of "western freedom" ?

That would better reflect the reality facts, in my opinion.

I am living in one of your "free" western country and I must say that reading about celebrations of the 60th anniversary of a weapon of mass destruction just makes me want to P-U-K-E.

FULL STOP.

Re:60 years of raining death and destruction (5, Insightful)

Dave Emami (237460) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698917)

Putting aside your politics for the moment -- let's just say that I disagree with you -- this is about a well-designed and enduring piece of technology. I can admire the technical excellence of a something without liking what it was used for, or who used it. I can, for example, still appreciate the robustness and shallow learning curve of the AK-47 without being a Marxist -- and by the way, that weapon has almost certainly killed more people over those 60 years than the B-52 has. The ideal nerd should be able to look at a high-tech device and have some part of his mind thinking "whoa, that's freakin' cool!" right up to the moment that it kills him.

Re:60 years of raining death and destruction (0)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698889)

How about 60 years of western freedom, which was guaranteed by things like this?

With apologies to Gandhi, "it would be a good idea."

Your freedom is largely illusory and continually slipping away.

Re:60 years of raining death and destruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698891)

Freedom fries, the food for free people with free minds!

We have always been at war with _________

Re:60 years of raining death and destruction (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699011)

More like a decade at best. ICBMs became the main method of getting nuclear weapons to their targets. Bombers rapidly became unusable due to advances in air defence. Instead they were relegated to taking part in various conventional wars against inferior enemies, none of which were necessary to guarantee western freedom.

Waaay past the original projection (4, Interesting)

Dave Emami (237460) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698733)

In the September 1965 National Geographic [flickr.com] feature article on the USAF, they write about the B-52's capabilities, but give a warning, saying (quoting as best I can): "Weapon systems have a useful service life of about a decade, and the B-52 is almost that old now. How long will it be until we need to replacement for it?"

Mind you, in 1965 that outlook did make more sense than it does in hindsight. The USAF/USAAF's primary long-range bomber had gone from the B-29 to the B-36 to the B-47 to the B-52 within the the space of twenty years, and the B-70 hadn't been cancelled yet. The same thing applies to fighters, going from one new deployed design per year on average, then, down to one every 10-12 years now. I presume part of that is due to increased computing capability allowing more tinkering and experimentation without having to actually build something, but that can't be all of it. Anyone care to speculate?

Re:Waaay past the original projection (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698953)

Back then tech was rapidly advancing. The B52 would have been canned pretty quickly if it hadn't been able to adapt to low level flying. When it was designed bombers flew higher than AA and fighters could reach at high speeds. Then surface to air missile tech rapidly improved and they had to switch to very low level under-the-radar flying.

Also keep in mind that back then mutually assured destruction was thought to be absolutely vital so when something new came along no-one was taking any chances. Once delivery moved to ICBMs aircraft design didn't have to immediately react to every change.

The types of weapons being carried, the defences the bombers would have to penetrate, the fighters going up against them and so on were all evolving rapidly. These days it is more evolutionary and much slower paced, so older tech is still very capable.

Re:Waaay past the original projection (2)

rcrodgers (1233228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698955)

It should be noted that the USAF knew in 1990 that they'd still be flying B-52s until at least 2040. I was a cadet at Michigan State University's AFROTC, and remember seeing slides and other information that projected that.

Re:Waaay past the original projection (0)

ooshna (1654125) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698983)

No real threat from any nation with and air force we have to worry about?

Building planes designed to be retrofitted with newer technology?

Instead of worrying about conventional aircraft we are spending that time and money reverse engineering the crashed UFOs from Roswell?

No need to upgrade (and here's why) (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698767)

The b-52 hasnt needed a major upgrade since we figured out, we don't need a more efficient bomber (other than one that has stealth capabilities) as when the enemy overtakes us on air superiority once these fail, and subsequently, if the b2 fails, and as do our guided missiles, drones, etc. We have ICBMs capable of glassing our enemy.

We figured out after various political treaties and the fact that no side can win in a nuclear war, no country wants to get glassed, and we have proven twice already that we are not afraid of using our nuclear arsenal when things only begin to get bad. Thus, any country capable of sparking a war that involves aircraft, and the means to take out high altitude bombers, is likely to not attack. (ironically leaving countries with inferior technology the capability to attack us, and subsequently drain us better than any large military could)

in short, the b-52 doesn't need an improvement, maybe retrofitting, but it does what it needs, as we have plenty of supplementary technologies that negate the need to do so.

Can't compare the costs, different roles. (1)

Hozza (1073224) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698815)

Comparing the cost of B-52's and B-2's isn't really fair, they were built with very different political requirements.

The B-52's were made with WW3 in mind, and the basic MAD mission would have been to send hundreds of bombers across the USSR in the hope that most of them would reach their target. During all-out nuclear war it wouldn't matter too much politically if 20-30% of the bombers didn't make it back home, as long as the others scored a hit.

The B-2, however, is designed with the assumption of a much higher survival rate, and no politically embarrassing lost/captured crews. This basically requires that you have a few very expensive aircraft, as opposed to lots of cheap ones.

In other words, the B-2 is much more expensive because it puts a much higher value on the lives of the crews.

Re:Can't compare the costs, different roles. (2, Informative)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698903)

Unfortunately, your conclusion isn't all that correct - the B-2 was not designed for crew survivability, it was designed for mission survivability in that it was supposed to be a first strike weapon against the Soviet command and control structures. Whether that allowed the crews to return to base after striking their targets in the Soviet Union was a mere byproduct, because it was always assumed that the Soviets would get off enough ICBMs to still cause significant damage on US soil, including major military bases...

The survivability fact came as a happy bonus later on when the B-2s role was switched to a more conventional one during other conflicts.

just thought I'd let you know... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698833)

...that in Soviet Rusia or Hitler's Germany or Imperial Japan or Juche North Korea, people thought/think that it's the West who are the bunch of immoral murderers and that it is therefore necessary to arm to strongly defend and to occasionally make pre-emptive strikes.

And when you see those men jumping from the WTC building and are rightly saddened by the loss of life, remember that bombing raids by America have produced such deaths a hundred times over across the globe - of men, women and children, while wearing a military uniform, in a business suit, or just shooting the breeze in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It's true that, today, America is the military superpower.

It's true that, today, America has the most powerful propaganda machine. Your media displays the abuses of your enemies, the suffering of your enemies' civilians under its own government, and the glorious quality of life of the well-heeled on your own shores. (Your enemies' media will be full of your abuses, show the poor and destitute of America, and depict the glorious quality of life of the well-heeled on their own shores.)

Probably you've been convinced that you're just and moral. Likely, as some of your enemies, you will speak in terms of a religious or quasi-religious body, such as "Jesus" or "the free market". But all that matters is whether your words and actions, direct or indirect, promote or cause suffering.

Re:just thought I'd let you know... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39699077)

a sad, sad, troll... most likely a bit envious 'cause the visa to the U.S. was denied - enjoy your Third World, my friend

B52 Today Bears No Resemblance to B52 in 1965 (4, Interesting)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698845)

Today's B-52 only vaguely resembles the original version of itself. The original B-52 flew on hydraulic systems controlled by mechanical computers, on inputs from pilots reading analog gauges.

Today's B-52 has been retrofitted with the most advanced fly-by-wire control systems, avionics, engines, radars, communications, and ordnance delivery systems money can buy - all of which can be obtained from multiple sources, which is why it can still be built for $70M, as opposed to the no-bid, single source, $3B B-2.

About the only thing it has in common with its ancestors is that it's still a tin can with 8 scrolls that can rain fire and death from 40,000 feet.

Re:B52 Today Bears No Resemblance to B52 in 1965 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698861)

B-52 and fly-by-wire? I don't think you're using that term correctly.

Re:B52 Today Bears No Resemblance to B52 in 1965 (1, Interesting)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698937)

The B-52 doesn't have fly-by-wire, and it still uses largely the same engines as it did in the 1970s...

Also, the B-2 was not no-bid, single source, there was a fairly significant competition between at least three parties for it, including Lockheed.

What not to do with a B52 bomber (0)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698871)

Look at this cowboy flying this B-52 bomber [youtube.com]

I was reading about the flight safety record of the pilot flying this B-52 bomber. These incidents were recorded of him breaking flight safety regulations.

Over the ridge he is within 1 metre of the ground, which prompted his own flight crew to complain. Notice how the photographers get lower on his second pass.

The steep banks were waaaaaay beyond the manufacturers guidelines. When he puts the plane into a steep climb and does a wing-over (from memory) you see what looks like contrails from the wing tips, it's actually aviation fuel coming out of the fuel tank vents as he flips the plane over - fighter aircraft sure B52 bomber, not a good idea.

In the final moments when he looses control consider that he crashed the aircraft within 20 meter of a nuclear weapons bunker, that's the reason it was a no fly zone. This was his wing commanders retirement flight who didn't want his other crew aboard while he witnessed for himself what this guy was doing. His family were watching as he failed to eject.

fyi [wikipedia.org]

Low-Level Penetrator? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698921)

Holy crap, that must be loud.

The Poor B-1-B (2)

gelfling (6534) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698931)

The lowly B-1-B is now the weapon of choice for Afghanistan because its higher speed allows a single plane to be used to cover the country end to end.

Good value (1, Informative)

Grayhand (2610049) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699005)

B-52s, A-10s, F15, F16s all saw heavy use and cost a tenth or less than the modern high tech planes. Now look at the track record for next generation aircraft. B-1 never saw a day of service, after years of testing the B-2 finally saw light use in the first gulf war and more in the latest, F-22 not a day of service. These aircraft cost 400 million to 3 billion. The military keeps insisting they need the latest and best but once they get them they rarely use them. Another plane that cost a fortune and took forever to see service was the Osprey. They finally saw service in the latest wars but development started before a lot of people on this site were born. Better to focus effort and limited funds on aircraft that actually get used. Most of these next generation aircraft were pork barrel projects. That's why they were never able to kill the Osprey. The Senator whose home state had the contract fought every attempt to shut down the program so billions were wasted.

Re:Good value (1, Interesting)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699111)

Wow, lots of things wrong with your timeline...

The B-1 was a cancelled project, which was reactivated and became the B-1B - which saw combat in Iraq in 1998 (it was in service for the first Gulf War, but was only capable of a nuclear role and thus was on nuclear deterrent duty for the duration).

The B-2 first saw combat in Kosovo in 1999, two years after it entered USAF service.

F-22 has no requirement to be deployed overseas, there are no jobs for it to do currently - why not run out the airframe time on older airframes rather than waste the more expensive air dominance aircraft...

Re:Good value (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39699133)

Check your facts re. B1. It has been used extensively (ie. dropping bombs) in the middle east over the past two decades.

Re:Good value (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39699137)

"B-1 never saw a day of service"

It may not have had even a fraction of the B-52's record, however according to the Air Force:

"The B-1B was first used in combat in support of operations against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. In 1999, six B-1s were used in Operation Allied Force, delivering more than 20 percent of the total ordnance while flying less than 2 percent of the combat sorties."

Multi-generation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39699097)

I thought they were old when I was flying them in the 80s and 90s (they were). One of the navigators in my first squadron said his father had been a B-52 navigator. A couple of years ago, I ran into a former neighbor, whose son joined the same Cub Scout den as my son way back when. He said that little Cub Scout I remembered had just upgraded to B-52 aircraft commander (my old job) in that same squadron.

That's three solid generations, and apparently, there's time for at least one more.

Benefit of Engineering Uncertainty (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39699135)

And lets not forget that the B52 was designed by engineers using slide rules -- and not finite element analysis shaving things to their theoretical minimum. They designed something big and stout out of stuff they knew a lot about... (I think that was the right phrase). Wan't that long after the Comet disasters showed the impact of metal fatigue on airframe integrity, after all. These things have almost the same kind of design elegance as a Kalashnikov -- and the multiple refits show that the design has really held together. I am happy for all the modern designs that are polished as computer models before being instantiated into material -- but the durability of these old designs compared to the fragility of modern military planes is worth contemplation. Just because an approach is new does not make it automatically better.Something worth thinking about, no matter how unfashionable.

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