Imagine you're a fighter pilot for some foreign power, taking to the skies in a future conflict against the United States. You're cruising along, minding your own business until suddenly, someone has missile lock on you. Before you know it, you're hit, you pull the ejection handle and float back down to earth as you see your stricken fighter crash and burn. You were just shot down by a 60-plus-year-old B-52 Stratofortress. A bomber?!
That's the reality the Pentagon could be targeting, with a new report from Scout.com's Warrior blog reporting that Uncle Sam may be looking at building a heavily updated B-52 and employing it as a so-called arsenal plane. The last time we reported on such a concept was when Boeing said it'd be preparing an F-15 that could carry up to 16 air-to-air missiles.
"In practice, the 'Arsenal Plane' will function as a very large airborne magazine, networked to fifth-generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes, essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create wholly new capabilities," Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told reporters. Those new capabilities would basically turn the B-52 into an anti-aircraft platform, and according to at least one analyst, it's entirely feasible.
"You are using a jet that already has a military capability. The B-52 is a military asset, whereas all the alternatives would have to be created. It has already been weaponized and has less of a radar cross-section compared to a large Air Force cargo plane. It is not a penetrating bomber, but it does have some kind of jamming and countermeasures meant to cope with enemy air defenses. It is wired for a combat mission," Virginia-based defense consultant Richard Aboulafia
An arsenal plane, according to Carter, would be based on an "older" platform, lending credence to the B-52 theory. It will be developed as part of a $71-billion research-and-development request in the 2017 budget.