B-52 bombers, based in the U.S. Central Command theater for the first time in 26 years, have stepped up their strikes against Islamic State militants in the past month. 

The bombers have flown flew nearly 140 sorties out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and employed more than 680 precision weapons against ISIS, Lt. Col. Chris Karns, spokesman for Air Forces Central Command, told Air Force Times on Wednesday. 

When the Stratofortresses first arrived in April to demolish Islamic State supply warehouses in Iraq and Syria, it was difficult to measure their effect after the first few weeks, Karns said.

But now, the B-52 is getting its footing in theater and "striking lucrative targets with great precision and effect, impacting Daesh logistics, command and control, weapons manufacturing areas, and Daesh financial resources," he said, using the Pentagon's preferred name for the group.

"As of May 31, B-52s stood at 80 sorties in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, employing more than 350 weapons in 73 strikes," Karns said in an email. "Three weeks later, the B-52 is at 140 sorties and its precision capability and versatility has been impactful to Daesh operations."

Coalition aircraft more than doubled their strikes against weapons caches last month. Strikes against ISIS storage depots increased from roughly 60 strikes per month to 137, Karns said.

The coalition, which recently welcomed Poland to the airstrike campaign, is also targeting vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, Karns said. Between April and  May, more than 100 VBIEDs were struck, which represents an increase since the year began.

"Air Force and air coalition assets are getting after the tools of terror employed by Daesh while at the same time hitting areas simultaneously to create Daesh decision-making confusion," he said.

Several B-52s arrived at Al Udeid on April 9 to join the American-led campaign.

The Air Force is making great use of the aircraft before the B-1s return to the theater.

Officials have hinted the B-1 bombers, which returned stateside in January, should head back this summer after they receive additional upgrades. Karns said specific details on their return cannot be disclosed.

A B-52 Stratofortress flies over Iraq April 21 on an Operation Inherent Resolve sortie. The B-52 can carry a weapons load of up to 70,000 pounds.

Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Larry Reid Jr./Air Force

The B-1 "is receiving the Integrated Battle Station upgrade," he said. This work "includes upgrading analog cockpit displays and connecting each aircraft to a global communications network."

Despite being in the Air Force inventory for more than 50 years, the B-52, affectionately known as the "Big Ugly Fat Fellow," can drop precision-guided weapons. The aircraft's payload capacity of 70,000 pounds can include gravity bombs, cluster bombs, precision-guided (cruise) missiles and Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

"While the B-1s will be receiving much needed modernization and maintenance, the venerable B-52, with its similar capacity and accuracy and endurance, remains ready and able to meet combatant commander requirements," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said at a March 7 Air Force briefing.

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East, Europe and Pacific for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.

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