The Pentagon’s emerging “Arsenal Plane” or “flying bomb truck” is likely to be a modified, high-tech adaptation of the iconic B-52 bomber designed to fire air-to-air weapons, release swarms of mini-drones and provide additional fire-power to 5th generation stealth fighters such as the F-35 and F-22, Pentagon officials and analysts said.
Using a B-52, which is already being modernized with new radios and an expanded internal weapons bay, would provide an existing “militarized” platform already engineered with electronic warfare ability and countermeasures designed to thwart enemy air defenses.
“You are using a jet that already has a military capability. The B-52 is a military asset, whereas all the alternatives would have to be created. It has already been weaponized and has less of a radar cross-section compared to a large Air Force cargo plane. It is not a penetrating bomber, but it does have some kind of jamming and countermeasures meant to cope with enemy air defenses. It is wired for a combat mission,” said Richard Aboulafia, Vice President of analysis at the Teal Group, a Virginia-based consultancy.
Flying as a large, non-stealthy bomber airplane, a B-52 would still present a large target to potential adversaries; however, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said part of the rationale for the “Arsenal Plane” would be to work closely with stealthy fighter jets such as an F-22 and F-35, with increased networking technology designed to increase their firepower and weapons load.
Such a scenario would likely rely upon now-in-development manned-unmanned teaming wherein emerging algorithms and computer technology enable fighter jets to control the sensor payload and weapons capability of nearby drones from the cockpit of the aircraft. This would enable Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets to more quickly relay strategic or targeting information between fighter jets, drones and “Arsenal Planes.”