For Wars of the Future, Pentagon Looks to Distant Past: The B-52

OVER THE EAST CHINA SEA—“Go back,” the Chinese air controller warned. “You are now approaching Chinese airspace. Turn around immediately or you will be intercepted.”

The crew of the B-52 lumbering 100 miles off China’s coast rebuffed the warning that crackled through the radio, and the 60-year-old aircraft stayed its course.

This was a bomber presence mission, a taxing flight designed to demonstrate the U.S. military’s long reach and uphold the right of international passage in disputed airspace.

It was also a window into the Pentagon’s plan to rely on aircraft from the earliest days of the Cold War to prepare for the wars of the future.

The February mission began at dawn at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam when the aircrew donned oxygen masks and “poopy suits,” puffy outer garments to keep out the cold in case the plane was forced to ditch in the ocean.

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