The Air Force’s B-52 Stratofortress aircraft — America’s longest-serving bombers — are expected to get an upgrade that will allow them to drop bombs like never before.

Airmen at Barksdale Air Force Base have been testing a major upgrade for the revolutionary Conventional Rotary Launchers of the decades-old bombers. The upgrade will increase the number of munitions a single B-52 bomber can drop at one time, according to an Air Force news release.

CRLs are rotating munition systems located inside the bomb bay that allow the heavy, long-range bombers to carry a larger and more varied payload of conventional smart bombs and other guided munitions.

“Before these launchers, the B-52 was not capable of carrying smart weapons internally,” Master Sgt. Adam Levandowski, the Air Forces Strategic Armament Systems manager, said when the first CRLs were delivered to the service in November 2017. “Now each CRL allows for internal carriage, which adds an additional eight smart bombs per aircraft,” he further explained.

The addition of the new CRLs increased the B-52's smart weapon carrying capacity by 67 percent.

B-52 bombers flew into battle with the new launchers for the first time in December 2017, setting a new record for largest number of bombs ever dropped from the airframe.

A B-52 releases a Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile from its internal weapons bay in July 2016 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The test marked the first time the JASSM had separated from the Conventional Rotary Launcher in the internal bay of the bomber. (Christian Turner/Air Force)
A B-52 releases a Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile from its internal weapons bay in July 2016 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The test marked the first time the JASSM had separated from the Conventional Rotary Launcher in the internal bay of the bomber. (Christian Turner/Air Force)

A long-standing issue with the CRLs has been that power could only be supplied to four munitions at a time. The planned upgrade will provide full power to all internal munitions at once. In the past, aircrews could only power four munitions on one pass, as anything more might risk blowing the circuit breakers mid-flight.

“Now, a B-52 going into a war zone has the ability to put 20 munitions on a target area very quickly,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Pierce, 307th Maintenance Squadron aircraft armament superintendent at Barksdale, referring to the eight internal weapons and the 12 additional munitions stored under the wings.

These figures refer to the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSMs) used in testing. The bombers can carry potentially larger quantities of other munitions.

"The entire effort to modify the CRL moved pretty quickly," Pierce said. "The bottom line is yesterday we had the capability to deliver 16 weapons at one time and today we can deliver 20 of them."

The Air Force is expected to upgrade all B-52s once testing is complete.