Laser-guided bombs back in belly of B-52

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Staff Sergeants 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, La., Aug. 20, 2019. McCloyn and Ehardt are members of a weapons load crew assigned to the 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (Air Force photograph by 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 at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 28, 2019.

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.

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, La., Aug. 20, 2019. The munitions would be launched from a CRL for the first time during a test flight. (Air Force photograph by Greg Steele)

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

Little explained the CRL 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 of the 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. The 307th AMXS took the lead in configuring the CRL to accept the LGB’s. 

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

Staff Sgt. Skyler McCloyn and Staff Sgt. 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, La., Aug. 20, 2019. McCloyn and Ehardt are members of a weapons load crew assigned to the 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. The 307th AMXS teamed up with their active duty counterparts at the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron to determine the feasibility of using the CRL to drop LGB’s. It was the first operational test of its kind. (Air Force photograph by Greg Steele)

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

The experience of the Reserve Citizen Airmen contributed greatly to the success of the effort, according to McCloyn.  

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

Little appreciated having the breadth and depth of experience offered by the 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. 

The 49th TES is a geographically separated unit of the 53rd Wing, headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
 

Reserve Citizen Airmen and their active duty counterparts utilized the Total Force Integration model to test dropping laser guided munitions from a Conventional Rotary Launcher at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., August 21, 2019. This type of munition has not been dropped from the bomb bay of the B-52 Stratofortress in nearly a decade, due to safety concerns with the racking system. The CRL may provide the capability to utilize the weapons from the bomb bay. The munitions are currently deployed from the wings of the jet. Carrying them in the bomb bay will protect them from weather conditions that can render them less effective. (Air Force photograph by Greg Steele)

 
Lt. Col. Joseph Little, 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron commander, inspects an inert, GBU-12 laser guided bomb on a B-52 Stratofortress, at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 21, 2019 It was the first time this type of munition was launched operationally from the CRL. Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 307th Maintenance Squadron and 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron prepared and loaded the munitions for testing. (Air Force photograph by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

 
Staff Sgt. Nathan Ehardt, 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew member, configures a Conventional Rotary Launcher in the bomb bay of a B-52 Stratofortress in preparation for the loading of four inert GBU-12 laser guided bombs at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 20, 2019,. The munitions were being operationally tested on a CRL for the first time. (Air Force photograph by Greg Steele)

 
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, La., Aug. 20, 2019,. The munitions were loaded in preparation for a test flight where they would be launched from a CRL for the first time. (Air Force photograph by Greg Steele)