American B-52 bombers are “ready and able” to strike ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, a top Air Force official confirmed Monday.
The air campaign against ISIS is “taking a toll on our aircraft, our readiness and our airmen” but the “venerable B-52 … remains ready and able to meet combatant commander requirements,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said during a Pentagon press briefing.
The bombers would deploy in April to take part in the air campaign against ISIS, according to Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, who announced the deployment while speaking at the Air Warfare Symposium 2016 in Orlando, Florida, in February.
The B-52 Stratofortress aircraft would replace the B-1 Lancer bombers that were withdrawn from the Middle East in January in order to undergo “modernization and maintenance,” James said.
According to James, the deployment is still awaiting final approval.
The 185,000-pound B-52 is one of the oldest active aircraft in the U.S. Air Force, having first entered service in the 1950s during the height of the Cold War. They were originally designed to serve as long-range, high-altitude intercontinental nuclear bombers that could strike deep into the Soviet Union.
The newest B-52 entered service in 1962 and the 159-foot plane became a Cold War icon, featuring prominently in the 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove.”
The planes have been modified heavily since the end of the Cold War and have been upgraded with precision-guided missiles, electronics and high-tech sensors. The plane can carry up to 70,000 pounds of bombs, mines and missiles, according to the Air Force’s official fact sheet.
The Air Force said the B-52s were responsible for dropping 40% of all munitions during Operation Desert Storm. The B-52s also saw action in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout the 2000s.
Prior to their January withdrawal, the B-1 bombers had flown 490 sorties against ISIS during their six-month deployment, according to a release from the 28th Bomb Wing out of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.