The venerable Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, first introduced into Strategic Air Command Service in 1955, was the mainstay of SAC through the peak of the Cold War, and during the Third World War. Though augmented in SAC by the Rockwell International B-1B during the war, the BUFF, as it was affectionately known by its crews, performed admirably during the war, whether it was maintaining the nuclear deterrent, performing ARC LIGHT strikes against Soviet-bloc forces either in Canada or the U.S., and leading the EASTERN EXPRESS campaign against the Soviet Union, the B-52 force did everything it was asked to, and more. Three variants of the legendary aircraft served in the war, and a fourth was introduced into SAC postwar. Only those versions that were active in SAC, or under development during the war, will be treated here.
B-52D: Mainstay of the ARC LIGHT effort during the Vietnam War, and modified in the “Big Belly” program to carry up to 108 Mark-82 five-hundred pound bombs. Led the LINEBACKER II campaign against the heart of North Vietnam, and the following wings were tasked for conventional bombing by SAC: the 7th at Carswell AFB, TX; 22nd at March AFB, CA; 43rd, at Andersen AFB, Guam, and the 96th at Dyess AFB, TX. Despite the two Texas wings taking losses to Cuban SOF on invasion day, the bulk of the force escaped the SOF effort, and took the war to the enemy from the outset. Losses were heavy, and of eighty D models still in SAC (and more in reserve at AMARC), only thirty-five aircraft survived the war. All retired and replaced by B-1B/C.
B-52G: In service as SIOP-dedicated nuclear bombers, and serving also in a conventional role, armed with AGM-84 Harpoon missiles in the Sea Control role, and also trained as aerial minelayers. B-52Gs armed with CALCM missiles were heavily involved in the EASTERN EXPRESS mission, as well as standing nuclear alert with ALCMs, SRAMs, and bombs. All surviving aircraft have been converted to B-52J standard postwar, with the last wing (97th BW, Eaker AFB, AR) converted during FY 11.
B-52H: In service for SIOP, though also used in the EASTERN EXPRESS mission. B-52Hs flew in all three of SAC's wartime nuclear strike missions, and were also involved in missions involving Bigeye chemical bombs and also in NIMBLE CAP. Surviving aircraft converted to J standard postwar, with the final wing (5th BW at Minot AFB, ND) converted during FY 10.
B-52J: Originally a Boeing concept for reengining the existing B-52 force with Rolls-Royce RB-211 engines, which are more fuel efficient than the J57 engines used on previous models. The plan also included extensive avionics upgrades, and full conventional weapons capability along with SIOP tasking. The program was given top priority by SAC during the war, however, Boeing was unable, despite the B-52 tools and jigs being available, to produce new-build bombers during the war, with upgrades and repairs to existing aircraft taking precedence. The program continued postwar, with the first prototype conversion coming off Boeing's production line in Washington State in 1991. SAC was pleased with the result, and existing G and H models were converted, along with new production by Boeing. Last new-production aircraft for attrition replacement expected in FY 14. Aircraft phase-out expected in FY 2045-50.