B-52 Bombers Deployed To Fight ISIS: Carpet-Bombing To Be Employed Against Terrorists?

The United States has announced that B-52 bombers, the oldest airplanes in the Air Force’s winged arsenal, will soon be deployed to Qatar and flying bombing sorties against ISIS (the Islamic State) in the near future. The B-52 bombers are making a return to the Middle East for the first time since they were deployed a quarter century ago during Operation Desert Storm.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on April 9 that Pentagon officials have said that an undisclosed number (for “operational security reasons”) of B-52 strategic long-range bombers — officially: Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses — will be deployed in the coming months to replace the more modern B-1 bombers recalled from service in February for maintenance, repair, and upgrade. The bombers’ base of operations will be the Al Udeid air base in Qatar, where the U.S.-led coalition’s Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC), charged with coordinating the air attacks against ISIS, is located.


“Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., commander, U.S. Air Forces Central Command and Combined Forces Air Component, said, according to Fox News, the B-52 would ‘provide the Coalition continued precision and deliver desired airpower effects'” in the war against ISIS. The general also noted that the bombers would also be available to bomb other targets in the region should the need arise.”

Lt. Gen. Brown stated, according to Al Jazeera (per the Monitor):

“The B-52 demonstrates our continued resolve to apply persistent pressure on Daesh [derogatory Arabic acronym for ISIS] and defend the region in any future contingency.”

According to Fox News, U.S. Air Force statistics revealed that the number of bombs dropped on ISIS targets fell to an eight-month low in February, the same month that the B-1 bombers were recalled. But the Pentagon believes the B-52 bombers will make good replacements.

Brown explained the merits of the B-1 bombers:

“Despite flying only 7 percent of strike missions against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, B-1s dropped nearly 40 percent of all the bombs. In addition to carrying many more bombs than USAF fighter jets, the B-1 could loiter over the battlefield for up to 10 hours at a time. It can fly at supersonic speeds meaning it can be anywhere over Iraq and Syria in minutes.”

The B-52 Stratofortresses, according to a 2014 Minot Air Force Base fact sheet, delivered over 40 percent of all weapons dropped during Operation Desert Storm. Each plane can carry a payload of 70,000 pounds and can fly unrefueled over 8,800 miles. The fact sheet notes that the range of the B-52, since it can be resupplied with fuel aerially, is limited on any mission only by its crew’s endurance.

The massive warplanes were first commissioned during the Eisenhower administration. Even though there have been many replacements planned and built, not to mention those abandoned, there has yet to be constructed any bombers as reliable as the B-52. And so the 60-year-old flying fortresses continue to serve.

But in the war against ISIS, a war against a terrorist organization that has proven to not abide by conventional warfare methods and/or military rules of engagement, can the B-52 — or any other strategic bomber, for that matter — be effective? Could waves of the warplanes, dropping hundreds of thousands of pounds of bombs on an area in what is known as carpet-bombing, succeed in destroying the fighting forces of ISIS, as some — like Texas senator Ted Cruz, who is currently running for president — have suggested?


Lieutenant Colonel Chris Karns, spokesman for the Central Command, could not comment on the number of bombers being deployed, citing “operational security reasons,” according to Reuters. As for carpet-bombing ISIS, he explained that the B-52s would not be used for such a saturation effect.

“Accuracy is critically important in this war,” said Karns “Carpet-bombing would not be effective for the operation we’re in because Daesh doesn’t mass as large groups. Often, they blend into population centers. We always look to minimize civilian casualties.”

It is as yet unclear how long the B-52 bombers will be deployed in the fight against ISIS. It is also unknown if the bombers will be rotated out when the refurbished B-1 strategic bombers are again ready for deployment.

[Photo by USAF/Getty Images]

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