The United States Air Force is unquestionably the best-funded, most capable air power that has ever existed. And though the flying branch is known for platforms that take to the skies, it’s not just fighter jets that make the service so dangerous. Here are the four deadliest Air Force weapons.
In terms of sheer amount of ordnance, virtually nothing in the Air Force active service can carry as much as the mighty B-52 bomber. Though the B-52 is by far the oldest active service airframe in the United States (the original B-52 airframes first took off in the 1950s!), steady upgrades to the heavy strategic bomber’s engines, airframe, and onboard electronics have kept the old bomber relevant into the twenty-first-century. Most recently, the Air Force has floated the idea of equipping the B-52 with hypersonic weapons, in effect turning the old bomber into a long-range, stand-off platform. The Air Force would like to replace their B-52’s engines once again, which could keep the bomber relevant into the 2050s—an entire century after the bomber’s first flight.
What is likely the world’s stealthiest fighter—the F-22 Raptor—is flown exclusively by the United States Air Force. Thought the air superiority fighter’s exact stealth characteristics are classified, the airframe’s stealth coating is said to be less maintenance-intensive than other stealthy designs, like the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, with requires the use of climate-controlled hangars for stealth maintenance and repair. Lockheed Martin, the F-22’s prime contractor, claims that from certain angles the F-22’s profile is equivalent to that of a steel marble.
Arguably one of the most powerful weapon systems in the United States Air Force is the GAU-8 Avenger. This seven-barreled gatling gun can hurl large 30mm high-explosive and armor-piercing incendiary cartridges accurately out to 4,000 meters. The gun’s armor-piercing rounds have a depleted uranium core and are devastating against a variety of armored targets. The GAU-8 Avenger excels in an anti-tank role, and is mated to the underbelly of the A-10 Thunderbolt close air support and attack aircraft. In this configuration, the GAU-8 Avenger makes up around 15% of the A-10’s weight and is roughly the same size as a small car. The GAU-8 is positioned slightly off-center in the A-10’s fuselage, with the firing barrel directly down the center of the jet airplane, a design decision that prevents the enormous recoil forces generated by firing the weapon from causing the A-10 to pitch or yaw when firing.
Named in honor of the Doolittle raiders of World War II fame, the B-21 has yet to take its maiden flight, but will likely be the stealthiest bomber in existence once it does later next year. Though artwork depicting the B-21 shows a tailless, flying-wing design reminiscent of the older B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, the Air Force claims (somewhat vaguely) that the B-21’s stealth characteristics will be two generations newer than the B-2’s. Thanks much increased sensors and processing power, the B-21 is anticipated to serve not only as a strategic stealth bomber, but also as an intelligence gathering platform, battle space manager, and perhaps an interceptor as well.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.