U.S. Air Force Tests Upgraded Conventional Rotary Launcher for B-52 Stratofortress Strategic Bomber

An upgrade to the U.S. Air Force’s B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber and the Conventional Rotary Launcher (CRL), was tested at the Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, Feb. 11.

The change is designed to increase mission flexibility and make the B-52 more lethal in a combat environment. The CRL, a weapons system designed for the B-52, can carry a variety of munitions, allowing for greater mission flexibility. However, it is limited to supplying power to only four munitions at a time.

Maj. Jason McCargar, a 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron unit project officer, said the new rendition can nearly double the number of weapons that can be powered at one time.

The improved efficiency has the potential to lower risk in combat environments, increase the number of weapons in theater of operations and lower the number of aircraft needed for missions.

“The Conventional Rotary Launcher has a high power draw, so an air crew could only power up four munitions at a time without risking blowing circuit breakers in mid-flight,” said McCargar. “With this upgrade, it can now have eight ready at once.”

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Pierce, 307th Maintenance Squadron aircraft armament superintendent, was part of the effort to bring the CRL online at Barksdale back in 2017. He said the ability to carry a full power load to all munitions on the CRL, in addition to another 12 under the B-52’s wings, has the potential to improve the jet’s lethality in combat.

“Now, a B-52 going into a war zone has the ability to put 20 munitions on a target area very quickly,” he said. “Before, they would have to drop some of their munitions, power up the CRL again and then make another pass.”

In addition to being able to deliver more munitions in less time, the modified CRL can also carry greater payloads of specific kinds of munitions. Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron loaded eight AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) on the CRL as part of the testing.

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer strategic bomber releases Lockheed Martin’s AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) during flight test at the Point Mugu range, in California. Photo by: Lockheed Martin

“The entire effort to modify the CRL moved pretty quickly,” said Pierce. “The bottom line is yesterday we had the capability to deliver 16 weapons at one time and today we can deliver 20 of them.”

Once testing is complete, the rest other CRL’s in the Air Force inventory will be modified to the specifications of the test launcher.

Master Sgt. Theodore Daigle, USAF 307th Bomb Wing

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