Combat Mission Sets New B-52 Smart Bomb Record

A B-52 bomber sits on a flightline with munitions loaded on a newly installed conventional rotary launcher in its bomb bay, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, on Nov. 17, 2017. The CRL will allow the B-52 to carry more smart bombs.
A B-52 bomber sits on a flightline with munitions loaded on a newly installed conventional rotary launcher in its bomb bay, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, on Nov. 17, 2017. The CRL will allow the B-52 to carry more smart bombs.

A B-52 Stratofortress, a bomber with a storied history dating back to the dawn of the Cold War, recently set a record for that airframe, dropping the most smart bombs ever on a combat mission.

The long-range strategic bomber, stationed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, carried out the mission in November in Afghanistan, according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, director of NATO's Resolute Support mission, future operations.

The aircraft was equipped with a new device for launching munitions, he said.

"So, we've used -- so far, we've used B-52s with their new conventional rotary launcher," Bunch said Tuesday during a video briefing from Kabul to reporters at the Pentagon. "Of note, it was the single most -- largest number of precision munitions ever dropped from a B-52."

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Over the course of the first night of an expanded strike mission -- called the new offensive campaign -- against the Taliban's revenue stream, B-52s released 19 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMS, against multiple targets, Air Forces Central Command spokeswoman Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli told Military.com.

"The JDAMs were variants of the GBU-38, to include the Low Collateral Damage Bomb version," Annicelli said in an email.

The operation took place in Helmand Province against narcotics facilities and an IED storage facility, she said.

The conventional rotary launcher allows the B-52 to carry more smart bombs.

"The first munitions released in combat from the [conventional rotary launcher] occurred on Nov. 18 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (Iraq)," Annicelli said. "However, this was the first use of the CRL in a major, deliberately planned operation."

Since January 2017, B-52s have dropped approximately 1,500 weapons (with about 50 percent unguided) in Afghanistan, AFCENT officials said.

The B-52 is designed to carry about 70,000 pounds of mixed ordnance, including bombs, mines and missiles, according to the Military.com equipment guide.

Empowered with more independence and authority under the Trump administration, the U.S. military this year has turned to a number of technologies in its arsenal for the war in Afghanistan, from the largest conventional bomb to the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.

During the same offensive in November, the Air Force sent the F-22 on its first operational mission against the Taliban.

Earlier this year, the military dropped the most powerful conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal -- the 21,600-pound GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), nicknamed "mother of all bombs" -- in Afghanistan in the first-ever use of the munition in combat.

Despite the use of such technologies, however, the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, now in its 16th year, shows no signs of ending.

The Taliban are believed to remain in control of 13 percent of 407 districts in the country, with 43 percent of districts under the group's control or being contested, according to a recent report from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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