11. The B-52’s mission changed as a result of the Vietnam War
The design of the B-52 is actually older than the Air Force in which it serves. The B-52 concept and basic design preceded the 1947 formation of the United States Air Force as a service separate from the US Army. Designed in the aftermath of what was then considered successful strategic precision bombing campaigns against Germany and Japan, the bomber was initially intended to continue that Air Force priority, using nuclear weapons to annihilate America’s enemies. It had not been designed to pursue conventional bombing missions against enemy troop concentrations or fortified bases. Nor had it been designed to destroy infrastructure. Yet it was modified and used in such roles during the Vietnam War, with its crews gaining experience in conventional warfare. It delivered more bomb tonnage on enemy targets during the Vietnam War than any other aircraft.
After the end of American involvement in Vietnam the remaining B-52s in the Air Force inventory were updated for continuing use as a conventional weapon, rather than a strategic nuclear bomber. Over the years several variants had been built, designated by a letter following the B-52 (B-52D, B-52G, and so forth). By the end of the Vietnam War only the B-52G and B-52H remained in the Air Force. The B-52G remained in the role of carrying nuclear bombs, part of the Strategic Air Command’s contribution to the nuclear triad. B-52s were upgraded with new avionics, and armed with additional weapons, including cruise missiles, guided missiles, and self-defense weaponry. Advances in technology allowed the airplanes to be a major factor in the developing modern battlefield of the late 20th century, despite their essentially post-World War II design.