The U.S. Air Force’s Next Big Thing: Arsenal Planes With Hypersonic Missiles

David Axe

The “arsenal plane” that U.S. Air Force is developing in order to carry large numbers of munitions into battle might also carry new hypersonic weapons.

Despite other officials hinting that cargo planes could function as flying arsenals, Will Roper, the Air Force’s top weapons-buyer, seemed to lean toward equipping B-52 bombers for the role. 

“If you look at our force going forward, a lot of the programs that we have are turning the bomber force into something else,” Roper said at a press event in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 12, 2019. “A B-52 with a lot of hypersonic weapons on it is, I will call it a bomber, but it's certainly not dropping things down—quite the opposite, right? It's almost a missileer instead of a bomber.”

Air Force Magazine reporter Rachel Cohen was among the first to report Roper’s comments. “Roper said he and Air Force Global Strike Command boss Gen. Timothy Ray have been moving through many reviews as the service works to put hypersonic weapons on the B-52,” Cohen wrote.

Global Strike is also exploring the idea of expanding the B-1’s weapons capacity from 24 to 40 munitions, according to an Air Force release, though the B-1 and B-2 are slated to retire in the coming decades, leaving the B-52 and the future B-21 to make up USAF’s bomber fleet.

In September [2019], Ray told reporters the B-1 could carry hypersonic weapons on its external hard points and at least four internally, as well as ferry the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, its extended-range variant, and the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile.

“We’ve got to move from being the roving linebacker of the Middle Euphrates River Valley and [Regional Command North in Afghanistan] to being the roving linebacker of the North Atlantic and the Pacific—LRASM, JASSM-ER, hypersonics—and so we’re taking a very close look at how we might make that adjustment here very soon,” Ray said of bombers.

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