The Cold War-era B-52 Stratofortress bomber has arrived in the Middle East to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State, the U.S. Air Force announced.
The long-range heavy bomber aircraft flew from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and arrived Saturday at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, according to a press release from Lt. Col. Chris Karns, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Central Command.
The stationing of the B-52 in the Middle East marks the first time the service has based the aircraft in the region in a quarter century -- since Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in the early 1990s, the release states. The Stratofortress last flew operational missions during Operational Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan 2006, it states.
The deployment comes three months after the service pulled the B-1B Lancer bombers from the region for upgrades and repairs.
“The B-52 demonstrates our continued resolve to apply persistent pressure on Da'esh and defend the region in any future contingency,” Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, head of the command and the combined forces air component, said in the release, referring to another name for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
With a top speed of around 650 miles per hour, range of about 8,800 miles and capacity to hold roughly 70,000 pounds of nuclear and conventional bombs, mines and missiles, the aircraft is capable of carrying out a variety of missions, including strategic attack, close-air support, air interdiction and maritime operations.
The Air Force as of last year had a total of 76 B-52H models in the fleet, including 58 in the active component and 18 in the reserve component, according to figures previously released by the service.
In a follow-up email to Military.com, Karns said he wasn't able to specify how many of the bombers are now based at Al Udeid due to "operational security reasons."
But the planes, which were designed to carry nuclear weapons capable of destroying large swaths of territory, are now equipped with precision-guided weapons capable of striking small targets such as a vehicle.
"Accuracy is critically important in this war," Karns said. "The technology available today enables us to drop one or two munitions in an area to achieve the desired effect. The same holds true for the B-52."
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James last month said the iconic Boeing Co.-made aircraft would be deploying to the Middle East, but infrastructure improvements first needed to be completed in theater. She didn’t detail the type of work that was done, presumably at Al Udeid.
--Brendan McGarry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.