Boneyard Surgery

The Air Force is slowly reducing the number of out-of-service B-52G bombers that still count as nuclear delivery platforms under the rules of the New START agreement with Russia by cutting up these airframes. There were 30 B-52Gs in the Air Force’s aircraft boneyard in the Arizona desert still considered as “deployed heavy bombers” under New START’s counting rules, according to the State Department’s fact sheet, issued on Nov. 30, but reflecting the size of the US strategic nuclear arsenal on Sept. 1. That total was down by six airframes compared to the data in the previous fact sheet from June 1 detailing the arsenal’s composition on March 1. The Air Force is separating the tail from each B-52G fuselage in a way that eliminates them from the nuclear-capable inventory for the purposes of the treaty. The service still had more than 140 B-2A, B-52G (all retired), and B-52H nuclear-capable bombers, according to the most recent fact sheet. The Air Force intends to draw down to a total of no more than 60 deployable B-2As and B-52Hs as part of the United States’ overall reductions to meet New START’s ceilings on strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems by February 2018. Plans are in place to convert some B-52Hs to platforms capable of carrying only conventional munitions to meet that number.