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Boeing B-52 strategic bomber taking off

A strategic bomber is a heavy type aircraft designed to drop large amounts of ordnance onto a distant target for the purposes of debilitating an enemy's capacity to wage war. Unlike tactical bombers, which are used in the battle zone to attack troops and military equipment, strategic bombers are built to fly into an enemy's heartland to destroy strategic targets e.g. major military installations, factories and cities. In addition to strategic bombing, strategic bombers can be used for tactical missions. The United States and Russia maintain strategic bombers; India leases four from Russia.[1]


First and Second World Wars

At the start of the Second World War, most strategic bombing was carried out by medium bombers, typically twin-engined with several gun positions. Bigger two and four-engined designs were being developed and these came to replace the medium bomber designs.

By the end of the Second World War, the heavy bomber was the aircraft usually used for bombing the enemy's cities and infrastructure.

Cold war and later

During the Cold War the United States and United Kingdom on one side and the USSR on the other kept nuclear-armed strategic bombers ready to launch at a moment's notice as part of the deterrent strategy of Mutual Assured Destruction. Most strategic bombers of the two superpowers were designed to deliver nuclear weapons. For a time, B-52 Stratofortress bombers were kept in the air around the clock, orbiting fail-safe points near the Soviet border. The RAF's V-bombers were directed against targets in European Russia and would have been able to reach and destroy cities like Kiev or Moscow before US bombers.China produced an unlicensed version of Tupolev Tu-16 named Xian H-6

More recent strategic bombers like the Rockwell International (now Boeing) B-1B Lancer bomber, Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack and the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit bomber incorporate stealth features in their design in an effort to avoid detection. Non-stealthy strategic bombers, e.g., the venerable Boeing B-52 Stratofortress or the equally venerable Tupolev Tu-95 are still relevant through the use of air-launched cruise missiles and other "stand-off" weapons like JASSM and JDAM. Indeed, it is likely that the USAF B-52 fleet will, with continuing upgrades, outlive the B-1B fleet. However, the USAF has recently launched a program for a new strategic bomber to complement the current fleet; it is likely that this bomber will also serve as a replacement for both the B-52 and B-1. In the case of the Russian VVS (Air Forces), new Tu-160 strategic bombers are expected to be delivered on a regular basis over the course of the next 10–20 years. Additionally, the current Tu-95, Tu-142, Tu-26 and Tu-160 fleet will be periodically updated, as it was seen in the 1990s with the Tu-22M fleet.

USAF B-1 Lancer supersonic strategic bomber

During the Cold War, strategic bombers were almost certainly armed with nuclear weapons. However, since the end of the Cold War, strategic bombers have exclusively been deployed using non-nuclear, conventional weapons. During Operation Desert Storm, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, American B-52s and B-1s were employed in both strategic and tactical roles. During the 1979-1988 Soviet-Afghan war, many Tu-95 carried out several mass bombings on several regions of the country.

Notable strategic bombers

These were the bombers used in the main or that represented a shift in heavy bomber design. With (Maximum bomb load). In practice, the bomb load carried was dependent on factors such as the distance to target and the type or size of the bombs used.


World War I

World War II

Cold War

Bombload can include nuclear armed missiles as well as conventional bombs

Post Cold War


See also


  1. ^ Paul, T. V.; Wirtz, James J.; Fortmann, Michael. Balance of power: theory and practice in the 21st century, Stanford University Press, 2004, p. 332. ISBN 0804750173
  2. ^ theoretical maximum
  3. ^ for the Mark III
  4. ^ Internal load
  5. ^ New Long-Range Bomber On Horizon For 2018


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