The Air Force has deployed the B-52 heavy bombers originally designed to carry nuclear weapons into the heart of the Soviet Union have begun using precision weapons against ISIS terrorists.
The planes are operating out of Qatar and began their mission by taking out an ISIS weapons storage facility in northwestern Iraq. The bombing missions will help Iraqi Security Forces and Peshmerga fighters push back ISIS forces.
Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, announced the deployment of the B-52s to Iraq and Syria during the Air Warfare Symposium 2016, said CNN.
The Air Force has been hard pressed to keep up the constant strikes against ground targets in ISIS's so-called caliphate. The heavy bomber mission was being conducted by B-1s, but the "Bones," as they're popularly called, were pulled from the mission and returned to the U.S. for maintenance and upgrades. B-1s from the 28th Bomb Wing out of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota flew 490 sorties in six months last year and dropped 3,800 munitions on 3,700 targets, according to CNN.
The B-52s there now are not as technologically advanced or sleek as the B-1s they're replacing. The youngest B-52 in the inventory rolled off the line in 1962, but they've been upgraded numerous times in the last few decades. These upgrades have taken the B-52 from the nuclear deterrence role through carpet bombing in Vietnam to precision strike. Currently, the Air Force is planning to fly them until at least 2040.
Modern B-52s carry the same Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods used by many F-16s, A-10s, B-1s, and other precision aircraft. The Sniper Pod was first deployed to combat in 2005 and allows pilots to accurately detect and engage targets from long ranges.
The B-52 can carry up to 70,000 pounds of munitions including precision bombs, missiles, mines, and cruise missiles.
It has already bombed insurgent targets in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of Operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, Desert Strike, and Enduring Freedom. This is its first deployment against ISIS.