In January, the Pentagon began retrofitting its B-52 Superfortress bombers to release "smart" weapons from its internal bomb bays.
"The upgraded launchers allow the B-52 to carry GPS-guided or ‘smart’ weapons in the weapons bay for the first time and are ready for use," reads a statement released by US defense contractor Boeing.
This month, the Air Force used a cruise missile in conducting its first test of the Conventional Rotary Launcher (CRL), dubbed the Joint Attack Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM).
Carried out by the 775th Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the trial was the first of three test phases. Three cruise missiles were dropped from an upgraded B-52H.
This initial trial focused on data collection related to the JASSM’s coordination with the new launcher. The next phase will add live weapons to the test, while the final phase will examine the CRL’s full capabilities.
Carrying bombs inside of the aircraft instead of mounted beneath the wings allows the B-52 to reduce drag and improve flight performance. While the bomber is currently capable of carrying 12 JASSMs externally, the upgrades allow it to hold eight smart bombs internally, in addition to other "dumb" munitions.
The Pentagon is also moving forward with a new nuclear missile known as the Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) that, once completed, could be carried by the bomber.
"The LRSO weapon system will be a cost-effective force multiplier for B-52, B-2, and B-21 aircraft to credibly deter adversaries and assures US allies of our deterrent capabilities," reads a US Air Force statement released earlier this month.
The Pentagon has called on defense companies to submit bids for the weapon’s design.
"LRSO is a critical element of the United States’ nuclear deterrence strategy," Maj. Gen. Scott Jansson, commander of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and Air Force program executive officer for strategic systems, told Defense One.
"Releasing this solicitation is a critical step toward affordably recapitalizing the aging air leg of the nuclear triad."