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‘Another arrow in the quiver’: Laser-guided bombs are back in the belly of the B-52

Crew chiefs from the 11th Aircraft Maintenance Unit run final checks

Crew chiefs from the 11th Aircraft Maintenance Unit run final checks on a B-52 Stratofortress prior to take-off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Aug. 21, 2019. The jet was being prepared to attempt the first-ever launch of laser-guided bombs from a conventional rotary launcher. (Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Staff Sgts. Skyler McCloyn and Nathan Ehardt load a GBU-12 laser guided bomb

Staff Sgts. Skyler McCloyn and Nathan Ehardt load a GBU-12 laser guided bomb onto a conventional rotary launcher in the bomb bay of a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. (Greg Steele)

Staff Sgts. Skyler McCloyn and Nathan Ehardt transfer a GBU-12 laser guided bomb

Staff Sgts. Skyler McCloyn and Nathan Ehardt transfer a GBU-12 laser guided bomb onto an MJ-1 Bomb Lift Truck prior to loading it onto a conventional rotary launcher in the bomb bay of a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. (Greg Steele)

Staff Sgt. Skyler McCloyn, 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew member, reviews his checklist

Staff Sgt. Skyler McCloyn, 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew member, reviews his checklist after loading a GBU-12 laser guided bomb on a conventional rotary launcher in the bomb bay of a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. (Greg Steele)

Senior Airman Endina Tinoco, 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew member, wires a GBU-12 laser guided bomb

Senior Airman Endina Tinoco, 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew member, wires a GBU-12 laser guided bomb after it was loaded onto a conventional rotary launcher in the bomb bay of a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. (Greg Steele)

Laser-guided bomb units, commonly referred to as LGBs, were dropped from the bomb bay of a B-52 Stratofortress for the first time in nearly a decade during an operational test performed by the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, in late August.

The munitions used to be dropped from the bomb bay of the jet using a cluster bomb rack system, but the method raised safety concerns and the practice was eliminated.

“We’ve still been able to utilize LGBs underneath the wings of the B-52, but they don’t do very well when carried externally because they are susceptible to icing and other weather conditions,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Little, 49th TES commander.

According to Little, the seeker head of the LGB can be adversely affected by the elements, potentially reducing its effectiveness.

The advent of the conventional rotary launcher, a bomb bay weapons platform made available to the B-52 fleet in 2017, provides an alternative to the cluster bomb rack system and may once again allow LGBs to be dropped from inside the jet.

Doing so would keep the weapons protected from the elements, reducing the effects of weather. It also has the potential to increase the jet’s lethality.

“It’s another arrow in the quiver,” Little said. “It give us the ability to carry more LGBs on the aircraft or give more variation on a conventional load. It adds capability and is another thing you can bring to the fight.”

Little explained the conventional rotary launcher was not originally designed for gravity-type bombs like the LGB, but recent software upgrades to the system now allow for such munitions.

Getting to the point of operational testing required a team effort between the 49th TES and Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. The 307th AMXS took the lead in configuring the conventional rotary launcher to accept the LGBs.

Staff Sgt. Skyler McCloyn, 307th AMXS aircraft armament systems mechanic, served as the loading team chief for the event.

“It was a very cool mission,” McCloyn said. “It’s exciting to know you are a part of something that could have a long-term impact.”

The extensive experience of the Reserve Citizen Airmen contributed greatly to the success of the effort.

“When you are doing something for the first time, there will always be kinks,” McCloyn said. “But the expertise we have from working with so many types of munitions allowed us to adjust and work through those issues without much trouble.”

Little said he appreciated the breadth and depth of experience offered by the Reserve unit.

“The 307th AMXS is on the leading edge of weapons loading and giving the rest of the B-52 maintenance community the data they need for unique scenarios like this,” he said.   #ReserveReform #ReserveReady

(Daigle is assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing public affairs office.)

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