‘Compelling Reasons’ US Is Upgrading its B-52s Likely Russia, China

© AP Photo / Mindaugas KulbisA U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Training Range in Pabrade during a military exercise 'Iron Wolf 2016' some 60km.(38 miles) north of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, June 16, 2016
A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Training Range in Pabrade during a military exercise 'Iron Wolf 2016' some 60km.(38 miles) north of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, June 16, 2016 - Sputnik International
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The US Air Force’s decision to increase the weapons-bearing load of its B-52 heavy bombers to accommodate the so-called “Mother of All Bombs” was motivated by “high-end competitors,” a service official told military.com July 10.

Sputnik previously reported on a Request For Information (RFI) document released by the US Air Force to increase the number of weapons a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress could carry, as well as the size and weight of those weapons.

A US Air Force B-52 bomber returning from a mission over Iraq is refueling from a KC-10 plane over the Black Sea, in this Friday, March 28, 2003 photo - Sputnik International
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The plane's external pylons can currently only carry 5,000-pound munitions. The RFI calls for new pylons underneath the aircraft's wings "capable of carrying multiple weapons in the 5,000-lb to 20,000-lb weight class."

"This is not a requirement that came out of nowhere," a US defense official told military.com. "There are compelling reasons why we have to go down that road," the official noted, without spelling out what those reasons were.

According to the RFI, when the existing pylons were introduced, "there wasn't a requirement nor did anyone foresee a need to carry weapons heavier than 5,000 lbs." The weapons pylon being upgraded hasn't changed in design since 1959.

The request to upgrade the B-52 fleet's bomb capacity is in line with the Pentagon's top priority of preparing for conflict with near-peer adversaries.

The US Defense Department's 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) is cited by military.com as one of the motivating factors for the decision to keep the B-52s in top fighting shape.

A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Training Range in Pabrade during a military exercise 'Iron Wolf 2016' some 60km.(38 miles) north of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, June 16, 2016 - Sputnik International
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The near-peer strategic competitors listed by the NDS include China and Russia, countries with extensive bomber fleets as well as nuclear weapons.

According to 2017 Congressional testimony by General Robin Rand, commander, Air Force Global Strike Command, "I anticipate the B-52 will remain a key element of our bomber force beyond 2050."

The US Air Force's 76 B-52s comprise almost half of its bomber fleet and are widely considered the backbone of the force.

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