Gunner manning an M2 Browning on a vehicle

It seems to be every day that the United States military is updating something in their arsenal, which is hardly surprising seeing as their defence budget is somewhere in the region of $600 billion!

But whereas they seem to be tinkering with a lot of their kit, it seems that they’re just as happy to stick with the old. Some of the stuff hasn’t been replaced because it still works really well, while others have attempted to be replaced but those attempts have failed miserably.

With this in mind, we’ve looked at three such examples of old tech that is still very much at the forefront of the American military, one of which dates back to World War I!

M2 Heavy Machine Gun (pictured above)

This year (2018) marks the 100th birthday of the M2, which is pretty impressive when you think about it! The M2 was developed by John Moses Browning, who was also responsible for the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and the Colt .45 M1911A1 handgun.

The M2 was initially built after a request by General John “Blackjack” Pershing, who was looking for a heavy machine gun that could be used in the trenches during World War I. Browning started tinkering with his .30-06 M1917 machine gun to allow it to take a larger and more powerful round.

Winchester then worked on the cartridge, which was essentially a scaled-up version of the .30-06. A rim was initially added to the cartridge as the company wanted to use it in an anti-tank rifle, but Pershing insisted that the round remained rimless.

The M2 is an air-cooled gun that shoots heavy .50 calibre rounds. Its rate of fire is around 450 – 550 rounds per minute, out to a distance of 1,250 yards. The M2 can also penetrate an inch of armour plating at 1,000 yards, which probably explains why it is still in use!

Today, the M2 is still in use in the United States with each of the armed services and the Coast Guard. The Army generally arm vehicle crews with the M2 including those on the M1A2 Abrams tanks. Meanwhile, the Navy and Air Force use it to defend their ships and air bases respectively, while the Marines use it on vehicles and off, with the latter being a tripod-mounted version.

The original version weighs 85 pounds, but the U.S. Army is currently working on a much lighter version which it estimates will weigh 20 to 30 percent less. Despite the occasional tweak to the basic design, there is no replacement for the M2 in the immediate future meaning it could keep going for another 100 years!

The M2 has also been turned into an airsoft gun with a magazine capacity of 2,500. There are some places taking pre-orders in the United States, but currently, it’s not available in the UK.

B-52H Heavy Strategic Bomber

B-52H with its full load laid out

The B-52H bomber was initially designed to carry thermonuclear bombs to the Soviet Union and back again, with the idea for the bomber was conceived immediately after the Second World War. Originally designed and built by Boeing, it has been in operation with the United States Air Force since the 1950s.

It is capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons and has a combat range of more than 8,800 miles without the need for aerial refuelling. Today, 76 of the original 102 B-52Hs are still used by the U.S. Air Force, which just goes to show the level of quality that comes with such an aircraft. However, arms control agreements have forced them to be converted into conventional-only bombers with their ability to carry nuclear weapons having been permanently stripped out.

The B-52 currently provides a long-range bomber that can drop precision bombs on areas without advanced air defences, while also launching long-range standoff weapons like the air-to-surface missiles against more heavily protected areas. It can even be used to lay minefields at sea with the “Quickstrike” air-dropped naval mines.

The Air Force is planning to re-engine the bombers to make them cheaper and more reliable, which should keep them in the air well into the 2030s, at which point the average age of the fleet will be 70 years old.

KC-135 Stratotanker

KC-135 refuelling fighter jet

Although technically not a weapon, it is another reliable aircraft from a bygone era; the refuelling craft Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. During the Cold War, the Air Force purchased 732 Boeing 707 commercial aircraft to convert them into refuelling planes. The KC-135 could hold and transfer up to 32,200 gallons of fuel per refuelling mission. Alongside this, it could also transport up to 41.5 tons of cargo in its cargo hold.

The KC-135 has been involved in assisting flying patrols against the Soviet Union, air operations over Vietnam and were even there during Desert Storm in 1991. 414 of them are still used today by the Air Force, Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, and is expected to keep flying for decades to come!