B-52 upgrade arrives in the Middle East
By Staff Sgt. Patrick Evenson, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing
/ Published December 22, 2017
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar -- The B-52 Stratofortresses assigned to the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron operating out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar became the first B-52s in the U.S. Air Force to employ the conventional rotary launcher upgrade in combat operations on Nov. 18.
The upgrade enables a bomber to carry eight additional smart munitions inside its bomb bay, in addition to those that are carried on the wings.
The B-52 is one of oldest airframes that the Air Force still operates. The models that the 69 EBS fly, coming off the line between 1960 and 1961, have been in every conflict since the Vietnam War.
Everyone involved with the CRL installation process spent many training hours preparing for the arrival of the hardware from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
Seven months prior to deploying to Al Udeid, the weapons crew with the 69th Aircraft Maintenance Unit received one training CRL at Minot Air Base, North Dakota. The first operational CRL arrived there four months later.
According to Master Sgt. Phillip Plinski, weapons section chief with the 69 EAMU, the team was training on the CRLs directly up to their deployment.
“Most of the crews were out-processing before and after their training, and we ended up finishing four days before the deployment,” Plinski said.
Staff Sgt. Katie Gonzalez, weapons load crew team chief with the 69 EAMU, said even after they arrived in AUAB, they were preparing daily for the arrival of the upgrades.
“All of the training paid off,” Plinski said. “Once the CRLs arrived in Al Udeid all of our aircraft were converted and flying the combat missions within 10 days.”
This was the first time a CRL has been used in a combat sortie with the B-52s.
Gonzalez said that her team was very proud to have contributed to history.
“We created our own history out here,” Gonzalez said of her team. “When my team leaves they’ll be able to share stories with their friends and families about how they directly changed history and the smart bomb capability of the B-52.”
Prior to the CRL upgrade, the bellies of the bombers were only equipped with racks able to carry gravity bombs. According to Capt. Roman Obolonskiy, officer in charge of the 69th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit, that type of munition is ideal for bombing large areas. When the mission requires a more precise strike, GPS-guided munitions are preferred.
“When it comes to preventing excessive damage and loss of civilian lives, gravity bombs are not as precise,” Obolonskiy said. “A GPS-guided munition will get it exactly to where it needs to be.”
Supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, the B-52s routinely conduct close air support missions with ground units throughout Iraq and Syria, who are tasked to eliminate the Islamic State.
The support the bombers can provide is dependent on how long they can stay in the air with bombs. Once they expend their munitions, they have to return to base for more.
Earlier in the year, with high operation tempos, the B-52s did not have the capability to carry as many bombs as it can now to support air operations.
The CRL gives the aircraft a more diverse payload.
“It certainly gives them a lot of options, as well as a lot more coverage time,” Obolonskiy said.
Out of the more than 700 B-52s that were built between 1952 and 1962, just over 70 remain. The CRL upgrade is just another piece of modern technology that will continue allowing the B-52 to tell stories for another generation.
“My crew and I made history the instant I locked that first bomb in,” Gonzalez said. “That is an amazing feeling.”