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US B-52 Bomber Drops First Stealthy Cruise Missile From Bomb Bay

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US B-52 Bomber Drops First Stealthy Cruise Missile From Bomb Bay

The U.S. Air Force’s B-52 bomber just became a lot deadlier.

US B-52 Bomber Drops First Stealthy Cruise Missile From Bomb Bay
Credit: U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) successfully tested the release of a Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) from the internal weapons bay of a B-52H Stratofortress long-range heavy bomber, according to a USAF press release.

The test involved the dropping of three Lockheed Martin AGM-158 JASSM stand-off cruise missiles–a new long-range, radar-evading cruise missile designed to destroy hostile air defenses before aircraft are within range—from the B-52’s internal bomb bay, fitted with an upgraded conventional rotary launcher.

It was the first time that a B-52 has successfully released a JASSM from its internal weapons bay. While  the bomber already could carry up to 12 JASSMs on its wing pylons, the capability to carry eight more JASSMs inside the bomb bay will increase the bomber’s stand-off cruise missile payload by more than 60 percent. The B-52 was previously only capable of carrying unguided munitions—“dumb bombs’—in its internal weapons bay.

Another advantage of carrying the JASSMs inside the bomb bay is that it reduces drag, which increases fuel efficiency and extends the bomber’s range and mission time. “For long range operations, this means less drag. The aircraft can fly further and faster and still return to base after the mission,” said Jose Estrada a weapons integration engineer with the USAF’s 775th Test Squadron.

As I reported previously (See: “US B-52 Bombers to Get New Long-Range Cruise Missile”), the USAF’s B-52 bomber fleet will also be armed with the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER) by 2018.  “Adding the extended range variant will more than double the bomber’s JASSM strike distance to 500 nautical miles (926 kilometers),” I explained.

Furthermore, I noted:

The new 2,000-pound conventional, air-to-ground, precision standoff missile is powered by the Williams International F107-WR-105 turbofan engine and armed with a penetrating blast-fragmentation warhead. The U.S. Air Force has approved full-rate production of the new missile in December 2014.  Under an October 2015 contract Lockheed Martin will build 140 baseline JASSMs and 140 JASSM-ER missiles.

In July, a B-52 bomber also dropped a Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) precision-guided bomb from its internal weapons bay for the first time. The USAF is also working on integrating the ADM-160 MALD (Miniature Air-Launched Decoy) decoy with the B-52’s new digitized rotary launcher.

All of this is part of the USAF’s quest for a more affordable capability against burgeoning anti-access/area denial threats. The bomber aircraft should be capable of launching its JASSMs and JDAMs from outside of a defended airspace and the coverage of long-range surface-to-air missiles.