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. Here is How The Air Force Will Keep B-52s Flying Past 2050
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a jet that is loved by just about everyone not being bombed by it. This massive bomber has served the United States Air Force for well over 60 years and is expected to last until at least 2050. But how will the Air Force keep this aging jet flying and competitive in combat zones for the foreseeable future?
The simple answer is modernization, because there is nothing wrong with the B-52’s airframe just the technology needs upgrading from time to time. Aboard the B-52 there have been several advancements towards weaponry systems, radar, and communications but the next big step will be focused on the engines.
There are currently 87 B-52s in service to the US Air Force and many of them are in need of new engines. Engine technology has evolved drastically and newer models are much quieter and provide a 40% increase in range. Investing in a re-engine process will increase the longevity of these bombers as well as cutting costs on hard to find spare parts and maintenance.
Boeing has provided a visual guide towards the advancement process of B-52 Stratofortress models in this video.
1) Revolutionary Conventional Rotary Launchers upgrade
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 allows the heavy, long-range bombers to carry a larger and more varied payload of conventional smart bombs and other guided munitions.
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.
“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.
“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.”
2) New AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) upgrade
The radars on US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers are old and haven’t been updated since the 1980s. To keep these decades-old aircraft fighting into the foreseeable future, the Air Force is pursuing new advanced radar systems that can unlock the full fighting capabilities of the older bombers, allowing them to eliminate ground targets, as well as take on non-traditional combat roles, such as taking out ships at sea and engaging in aerial combat.
Northrop Grumman, a major US defense contractor, is currently pushing to replace the B-52 bomber’s outdated AN/APQ-166 radars with its AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) as part of the B-52 Radar Modernization Program, Inside Defense reported Tuesday.
The SABR system pitched for the B-52 is the same as that being installed on Air Force F-16s. Northrop Grumman has an enhanced SABR variant for the B-1B Lancer as well.
Also in the running to provide improved radar systems for the B-52, Raytheon is pulling radar capabilities from the F-15’s APG-63(v)3 and APG-82 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars and the APG-79 on the Super Hornets and Growlers, according to an earlier statement from the company.
The upgrade would allow the bomber’s six-man crew to simultaneously engage the ground and naval targets in all weather conditions and at greater distances, target enemies using advanced electronic attack capabilities, and even engage in air-to-air combat if necessary.
With these enhanced capabilities and the B-52’s ability to carry a large arsenal of weaponry into battle, the aircraft will be better prepared to fight in contested anti-access zones and defend friendly forces.
China and Russia, both of which are locked in military competition with the US, have been pursuing standoff capabilities to create anti-access/area-denial environments, and the US military is working hard to counter emerging challenges to American operations by developing its own standoff capabilities.