The U.S. Air Force command finally made a wise decision: free-falling thermonuclear bombs B61-7, B61-11 and B83-1 are withdrawn from the armament of the strategic bomber B-52H Stratofortress. Only the AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) air-to-surface cruise missiles with the W80-1 thermonuclear warheads left to the “stratospheric fortress”. It is reported by the American online edition of The Drive.
However, it is not entirely clear why this was not done much earlier, 30–40 years ago. After all, the B-52, in the form in which it was conceived and put into serial production, is long outdated. Not the plane itself, but the weapons used on it.
The concept of this bomber was formulated in 1948. First of all, a record range was required from the aircraft, which would allow non-stop flights from the North American continent to the territory of the Soviet Union. The “strategist” had to have a high payload in the form of nuclear bombs, which at that time had a very large mass. At the same time, the aircraft could independently repel the attacks of enemy fighter aircraft, for which it was equipped with four large-caliber machine guns with fire control using the onboard radar.
Subsequently, the machine guns were replaced with a six-barrel automatic cannon “Volcano” 20 mm caliber. Also for defense were provided not only heat traps, but also missiles that mimic the radar characteristics of the B-52. Subsequently, a complex of electronic warfare appeared.
For the 50s, this bomber was, indeed, a fortress, the destruction of which was not easy. That is why the B-52 could fly without significant risk to the point of bombing, which almost coincided with the point of bomb detonation. And dump its deadly cargo, and then lie down on the opposite course – home, to the States. Free-falling bombs descended by parachutes (they are now arranged in exactly the same way) so that the bomber could fly to a safe distance from the epicenter of the explosion.
Such an “easy walk” was possible in the 50s in the absence of the enemy s anti-aircraft missile systems — the Soviet Union could not reach them. Flights at high altitudes in the immediate vicinity of enemy air defense zones became extremely dangerous for the Stratosphere Fortress in the 60s. A working bomber ceiling of 15 kilometers was reachable for SAM missiles – first the S-25, and then the more advanced S-75.
The US Air Force command was forced to change the tactics of using its main and at that time the only strategic bomber. When approaching enemy territory, the aircraft switched to flight at low altitudes, so as not to “catch the eye” of the air defense system radars. But at the same time, the risk of losses of bombers from nuclear explosions increased, since the bombing was carried out from low altitudes, and the aircraft might not have enough time to leave the danger zone before the explosion.
True, by that time, US B61 nuclear bombs had various warhead capacities designed to solve various combat missions. From tactical charges of 0.3, 1.5 and 5 kilotons to strategic charges of 170 and 340 kilotons.
And in 1991, the Vulkan cannons were removed from the bombers, since their use lost any meaning. The cannons located in the tail were designed to repel “classic” attacks when a fighter enters the tail of an attacked aircraft. However, by that time there were already rockets that had an all-round launch, and danger could appear from any direction.
That is, at the very latest, in the 80s, the use of B-52 bomber free-falling bombs against an enemy with powerful air defense systems lost all meaning. It remained to count on their use against any “obstinate regime”, which is armed only with Kalashnikovs of local manufacture and anti-aircraft guns.
Actually, roughly the same way the US strategic aviation worked in both Vietnam and the Middle East, using, however, the usual high-explosive fragmentation bombs.
And it is unlikely that something in this regard will change after the States finish the development and engage in serial production of the latest, twelfth, modification of the B-61 – B61-12. It differs from all the bombs of this family primarily in that it is controllable and planning.
It is assumed that after taking it into service, all previous modifications – B61−3, B61−4, B61−7 and B61−11 – will be gradually “sent to rest”. The power of the new bomb, like all previous ones, will be variable – from tactical to strategic values.
However, it should be recognized that for the B-52 this bomb as a strategic weapon is not suitable. In order for its flight to be long, so that it is as far away as possible from the discharge point (110-140 kilometers like GBU-39), it is necessary to carry out bombing from high altitude. But at such a range and high altitude, a bomber having an effective dispersion area of 100 square meters. m., perfectly visible to air defense radars. And we reach not only S-400, but also S-300 for anti-aircraft missile systems.
As for another bomb removed from the armament of the B-52, the B83, the technique for dropping it is exactly the same. The bomb descends by parachute, so that its carrier has time to fly away from the point of detonation. A significant difference is that its maximum power exceeds a megaton, it is 1.2 Mt.
The number of aircraft that can use the American thermonuclear bombs B61 and B83 has not decreased significantly. They remained in service with the B-2 Spirit strategic invisible bomber, the fifth-generation F-35 fighter-bomber and its “counterpart” of the previous generation F-15. This series also includes several aircraft of the European NATO member countries.
It is believed that the most effective use of bombs can “invisible” aircraft, built with the maximum use of stealth technology. And not only effective, but also completely safe for yourself. Sneaking up, undetectable for radars, quietly enter the air defense zone and carry out bombing on the cabriolet. That is, after separating the bombs, they will make a semicircle in a vertical plane, turning over “over the back”, and calmly leave in the opposite direction.
However, this concept is already outdated. The long-range radar “Voronezh” of the decimeter range will detect “invisible” when they are far outside the air defense zone. Air defense radars with emitting and receiving antennas spaced on the ground will take the aircraft for escort. After that, the “invisible” can be fired by anti-aircraft missiles.
There is no such problem in Russian strategic (long-range) aviation. Because nuclear bombs have long been withdrawn from service. The strategic arsenal consists of the X-55, X-555 and X-102 cruise missiles, the carriers of which are the Tu-59MS and Tu-160 missile carriers. Their maximum launch range is from 2500 km to 5500 km. That is, the launch can be made at a considerable distance from the air defense zone.
The exact same thing can be said about the strategic missile armament of the American B-52N bombers. The bomber is capable of carrying up to 20 AGM-86B missiles with a range of up to 2400 km and a variable charge power from 5 kt to 150 kt in the internal compartments and on the external sling.
At the same time, the armament of the best American strategic B-2 bomber looks rather strange. He is able to use only B-61 and B-83 bombs. The missile does not suit him, because it does not fit in the internal compartment. And using it on an external sling would lead to a significant increase in the visibility of the aircraft, that is, to a loss of quality over which Boeing designers worked so hard.