The leaflet bombs form a key component of psychological operations, according to the service, because they allow the US military to communicate with local populations. After being released from the plane’s wing, the PDU-5/B, a "repurposed cluster bomb," falls for a period until it explodes above ground, raining leaflets down from above.
The tests featured two B-52 sorties dropping 16 PDU-5/B munitions. Each canister can disseminate as many as 60,000 leaflets each.
The leaflets are used for information, propaganda and humanitarian purposes. Since World War II, leaflet bombs have been used to inform civilians of plans to strike a certain area and to evacuate, the Atomic Heritage Foundation reports. In certain instances, leaflets advocated local populations "to push their leaders to surrender," the foundation adds.
Similar evacuation notes were sent to villages and neighborhoods during Operation Iraqi Freedom before US Air Force jets began a bombing campaign in Baghdad, Iraq, the US Air Force said in a statement.
In 2015, F-15 Eagles dropped leaflets on Daesh fighters in Syria, The Aviationist reported. Three years earlier, the US Army used information bombs in Afghanistan, the news outlet said. In 2011, USAF EC-130 electronic attack aircraft took to the airwaves to convince members of the Libyan armed forces to abandon former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The tests were designed to ensure the bombs "do not contact the aircraft, and/or each other,” which Kevin Thorn of the 419th Flight Test Squadron said could produce “an unsafe condition." Historically, only helicopters and fighter jets have dropped the PDU-5/B munitions, so the dry run was intended to see how well B-52 strategic bombers could execute the same task.
“Without the capability to carry PDU-5s on the B-52 aircraft, the impending shortfall on leaflet dispersal capacity will jeopardize Air Force Central Command information operations,” B-52 PDU-5 project manager Earl Johnson said.
Psychological operations can be used for "tactical, operational and strategic levels of operations," according to Military.com in addition to humanitarian purposes. Aims included decreasing enemy morale, gaining support for US efforts, and influencing the thoughts and emotions of local populations.