B-52 modified for low-level flight
The B-52 Stratofortress was America’s first long-range, swept-wing heavy bomber. It began as an intercontinental, high-altitude nuclear bomber, and its operational capabilities were adapted to meet changing defense needs.
B-52s have been modified for low-level flight, conventional bombing, extended-range flights and transport of improved defensive and offensive equipment — including ballistic and cruise missiles that can be launched hundreds of miles from their targets.
After it became operational in 1955, the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F****R, as the B-52 is dubbed by its crews) remained the main long-range heavy bomber of the US Air Force during the Cold War.
Electronic Warfare Officer
But how were B-52s expected to get through Soviet air defenses to their targets?
‘In 1961 we did an exercise/test where all commercial, private, and military flying in the United States was grounded for one day while SAC (Strategic Air Command) attacked the US while NORAD (North American Defense Command) did all it could to “shoot down” (simulated with real fighters, Nike-Ajax or Nike-Hercules Ground to Air Missile “lock ons”) that would score against the attacking bombers.
B-52 at low-level
‘We used the attack tactic of “low level” (500 to 1000 feet off of the ground) and our on-board jamming electronics to make all the NORAD radar scopes white with noise so that they could not see any of us. Without any radar returns NORAD was “blind” and could not launch any fighters or missiles.
‘The result was that NONE of the bombers were shot down and we all (100%) bombed every one of our targets. My crew’s target was Loring AFB.
Repeating the exercise with the same results
‘SAC and NORAD repeated the exercise/test in 1962 and again in 1963 with the same results. My guess was that the boys in the head shed found it hard to believe the totality of the first two tests so they had to try the third. There was no point in trying a fourth one. Also, the B-52s did not use the basket weave tactic to further confuse the radar. Nor did we launch any of the 4 quail we carried in the aft bomb bay that could fly at varying altitudes and varying headings while giving a radar return just like a B-52. This alone would increase the B-52s survival by 80%.’
‘The good news was that, in an all-out thermonuclear war, all of our bombers would reach all of the Russian and Chinese and other communist targets. The bad news was that all of their bombers would reach their targets here in the United States. It is interesting to note that our sequencing on the enemy targets was in excess of 25 nuclear weapons on each target. That would make each target nothing but melted glass.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force