B-52 Stratofortress Upgrades
According to 2017 Congressional testimony by General Robin Rand, commander, Air Force Global Strike Command, "I anticipate the B-52 will remain a key element of our bomber force beyond 2050."
In September 2015 Air Force Global Strike Command began the conversion of a portion of the B-52H bomber fleet from a nuclear to a conventional only capability aircraft under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). DoD will retain 19 B-2As and 41 B-52Hs as nuclear capable heavy bombers, and will convert 30 B-52H bombers to a conventional only role, thereby removing them from accountability under the New START Treaty.
The conversion of the first of 30 operational aircraft from across the command was completed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, with the Air Force Reserve Command 307th Bomb Wing’s aircraft 61-1021. The conversion process preserved the full conventional capabilities of the B-52.
The 307th Bomb Wing Commander, Col. Bruce Cox said, “We were honored to accept the challenge of modifying the first of 30 B-52Hs in compliance with this historic treaty. Leveraging the unrivaled experience of the 307th Bomb Wing Citizen-Airmen maintainers, we quickly bridged the gap between engineering design and operational execution. I am very proud of the professionals of the 307th Bomb Wing Team.”
The Air Force also converted 12 non-operational B-52H aircraft currently maintained in storage at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Tucson, Arizona. The Air Force completed all conversions by early 2017.
Under New START, the U.S. and Russian Federation are required to have no more than 1,550 deployed warheads; 800 deployed and non-deployed intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and nuclear capable heavy bombers; and 700 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and nuclear capable heavy bombers. AFGSC also began the transition of 50 Minuteman III launch facilities across the command to an operational non-deployed status in May 2015. The Department of Defense announced its force structure in April 2014 to comply with New START requirements. The treaty-compliant force structure allows the U.S. Air Force to continue providing the nation with safe, secure and effective deterrent forces.
The B-52 is a typical representation of the misnomer of "legacy" system. While the B-52 exceeds 30 years of age, new modifications and mission capabilities are constantly updating the system. The following is a list of recent B-52 modification programs:
- Global Positioning System (GPS)
- TACAN Replacement System (TRS)
- Integrated Conventional Stores Management System (ICSMS)
- ARC-210/DAMA Secure Voice
- AGM-142 HAVENAP Missile Integration
- High Reliability Maintenance-Free Battery
- Electronic Counter-Measures Improvement (ECMI)
- Off-Aircraft Pylon Tester (OAPT)
- Air Force Mission Support System (AFMSS)
- Electro Viewing System - EVS 3-in-1 (EVS, STV, FLIR)
- Advanced Weapons Integration Program (JDAM, WCMD, JSOW, JASSM)
- Night Vision Imaging System Cockpit Compatible Lighting
- Night Vision Imaging System Compatible Ejection Seat Mod
- Standard Flight Loads Data Recorder (SFLDR)
- Avionics Midlife Improvement (AMI) (ACU, DTUC, and INS Replacement)
- ALR-20 System Replacement
- Fuel Temperature Monitoring System
- Panoramic Night Vision Goggles
- Advanced Infrared Expendables
- Advanced real Time Engine Health Monitoring System
- Closed Loop Sensor-To Shoot Data Collection/Trans
- Precision Targeting Radar
- TF-33 Engine Replacement
- Lethal Self Protection
- B-52 Cockpit Modernization
- KY-58 VINSON Secure Voice
- Additional Cabin Pressure Altimeter
- Enhanced Bomber Mission Management System
- Chaff and Flare Dispenser Upgrade
- Non 1760 Pylon Upgrade
The B-52 is undergoing a Conventional Enhancement Modification which allows it to carry MIL-STD 1760 weapons. The Advanced Weapons Integration (AWI) program supports the conventional enhancement of the B-52 through the addition of the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD), Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), Joint Stand-off Weapon (JSOW), and the Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM). Limited Initial Operational Capability for the WCMD was achieved on the B-52 in December 1998, and LIOC for JDAM was achieved on the B-52 in December 1998.
The Air Force Mission Support System supports the Air Force movement of all mission planning to a common system. GPS TACAN Emulation provides support to the Congressionally-directed GPS-2000. Electronic Countermeasures Improvement supports a DESERT STORM identified deficiency. The B-61 Mod 11 program was added at the direction of the Nuclear Posture Review and Presidential Decision Directive-30.
The AGM-142 (or Have Nap as it is commonly called) and Harpoon missile systems were first installed and made operational on the B-52Gs in the mid-1980s. When the "G" models were retired, these capabilities were moved to the B-52H model. While Air Combat Command (ACC) was happy to retain these operational capabilities, they were limited in their ability to employ either Have Nap or Harpoon by the fact that only a limited number of B-52Hs could employ the missiles. In the early 1990s the B-52 Conventional Enhancement Modification (CEM) Integrated Product Team (IPT) began programs to make it possible for any B-52H to carry and launch either missile. At about the same time, the AGM-142 SPO began a second phase of their producibility enhancement program, PEPII for short, to upgrade the AGM-142 missiles to both enhance supportability and lower the missiles cost. As of 31 December 97 these programs provided ACC with the expanded and more flexible mission capability they desired.
Since Operation Desert Storm, the B-52 community has deployed as an integrated force rather than individual units. The 5th Bomb Wing, along with the 2nd Bomb Wing and the 917th Wing (Air Force Reserve) at Barksdale AFB, La., are leading the way in developing a new joint training initiative called Buff Strike 2000. Buff Strike 2000 integrates training opportunities between the three B-52 wings and several off-board sensor platforms such as the E-8, E-3, and RC-135. Off-board sensor aircraft identify, classify, detect, and locate targets and then share that information with strike aircraft such as the B-52. The primary goals are to validate B-52 formation standards, standardize joint mission planning cell procedures and products, enhance interactions with off-board sensor platforms and develop tactics to hit emerging targets. The other aspect of the program involves the airborne alert interdiction mission. The interaction and standardization of the mission planning cell is vital during deployment situations because they are the hearts of combat operationsd. This effort will ensure combat isn't the first time everyone works together. Buff Strike 2000 was developed in response to recent B-52 real-world operations, as well as new mission requirements. Operation Allied Force validated the training and agility of the force and quality of its precision equipment and aircraft. Buff Strike 2000 improves past training and builds upon lessons learned from Operations Allied Force and Desert Fox. This allows units to deploy to a forward location and immediately begin combat operations. In the past it's taken time to fully integrate the two wings; this should cut that time dramatically. The future of the program includes integrating sensor aircraft to practice dynamic battle control to ensure target identification, classification and the ability to put direct air power to those targets.
The B-61 Mod 11 program involves development and testing of a modified nuclear weapon on B-52 operational aircraft. Replacement of a strategic weapon was recommended by the Nuclear Posture Review and directed by Presidential Decision Review-30. Congress was notified during the second quarter of FY 1995, of the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy intent to modify an existing weapon to provide a replacement option. Modifications (made by the Department of Energy) to the B-61 Mod 7 strategic bomb accomplish the mission requirements of the replaced weapon. Modification of an existing weapon is less expensive than the cost to develop a new weapon from "scratch." Flight testing by the 419th FLTS, Edwards AFB, CA is required to certify the modified weapon mass and physic properties are the same as the Mod 7 device. The Air Force asked and received permission from Congress to reprogram the $4.5M FY 96 Congressional plus-up for AGM-130 integration on the B-52, into the B-61 Mod 11 Flight Test program. This program was completed in FY 97.
A key element to preserving the combat capability of the BUFF is the continued effort to improve the reliability, maintainability, and supportability (RM&S) for the B-52s in the near future. The three major defensive ECM systems on the aircraft, the AN/ALQ-172, AN/ALQ-155, and AN/ALR-20, all needed upgrades or replacement due to performance, reliability, and/or supportability problems. In addition, a myriad of other defensive systems on the BUFFs required enhancements to keep the B-52 ECM suite viable throughout the lifetime of the aircraft. In FY97, the B-52 fleet received only six percent of the overall bomber budget which further complicated efforts to maintain these aging ECM systems.
Between October 1996 and March 1997, the B-52 ECM suite became the leading cause of the Air Combat Command's B-52 bomber wings not meeting mission capable (MC) rate standards for the B-52H fleet. The aircraft's three major defensive systems all needed upgrades or replacement due to performance, reliability, and supportability issues. During these six months, these three systems combined to produce a six month mission incapable (MICAP) driver rate for the B-52 fleet of more than 43,000 hours. In addition, B-52 ECM employees discovered that because of this, readiness spares packages (RSPs) kits were depleted of several key system line replaceable units (LRUs). This resulted in a significant impact to the operational readiness of the entire B-52H fleet.
In March 1997, HQ ACC B-52 logistics officials (HQ ACC/LGF52), Oklahoma City ALC B-52 leadership (OC-ALC/LHL), and managers from the Center's LNR division implemented an ECM Support Improvement Plan (SIP) to improve the B-52H ECM MICAP rate and RSP fill rates to acceptable levels. As a result, they eliminated MICAPs by April 1997 and filled RSP kits to the Independent Kit Level by May 1997.
The ALQ-172 ECM electronic countermeasures suite is being improved to cover a requirement identified during DESERT STORM. The improvement provides for an increased memory capability to handle advanced threats as well as correcting a coverage capability problem. The project adds a third ALQ-172 to the ECM suite and develops the new display required by the addition of the third system. The B-52's electronic countermeasures suite is capable of protecting itself against a full range of air defense threat systems by using a combination of electronic detection, jamming and infrared countermeasures. The B-52 can also detect and counter missiles engaging the aircraft from the rear. These systems are undergoing continuous improvement in order to enable them to continue to counter emerging threat systems.
Situational Awareness is the highest priority modification needed for the B-52. The Electronic Countermeasure Improvement is a Reliability and Maintainability initiative that upgrades two low Mean Time Between Failure components, and replaces two Control and Display Units (CDU) with one CDU. The ECM system uses 1960s-era technology and will likely be unsupportable by FY02.
Link-16 - A line-of-sight datalink that uses structured message formats to provide the capability for an organized network of users to transfer in real-time/near real-time, digitized tactical information between tactical data systems used to increase survivability and develop a real-time picture of the battlespace.
Six of the ageing US Air Force’s B-52 Superfortress nuclear bombers have been modernized with weapons bay launchers that can fire "smart" weapons, defense contractor Boeing stated in a news release. "The upgraded launchers allow the B-52 to carry GPS-guided or "smart" weapons in the weapons bay for the first time and are ready for use," the release said on 14 January 2016.
The enhancement modifies an existing common strategic rotary launcher in the internal weapons bay into a conventional rotary launcher, and increases the total number of smart weapons the B-52 can carry and deliver, the release explained. The upgrades to the B-52’s weapons bay allow the force to accelerate its transition "from Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles to Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile — Extended Range," US Air Force B-52 Program Director Colonel Tim Dickinson said in the release. The launchers can carry and launch eight Joint Direct Attack Munitions. Future versions will also be able to deploy Joint Air-to-Surface Missiles and Miniature Air Launched Decoys, the release added.
The USAF contemplated a Re-Engining requirement for the fleet of (76) B-52H aircraft, consisting of an eight-engine configuration utilizing new commercial regional/business size jet engines, with an estimated production rate of 650 engines over an 8 year period. Respondents were requested June 06, 2018 to provide a general background on their experience providing this class of engines to customers, and any experience tailoring the engines to individual customer needs. With B-52 utilization of a 2-level maintenance concept that has reduced/eliminated much of the intermediate level maintenance capability, it is important that the candidate engine be designed with maintenance in mind.
Request for Information (RFI) Market Survey was issued Jun 21, 2018 to identify potential sources that may possess the expertise, capabilities, and experience to meet the qualification requirements for the integration of replace external heavy weapons delivery system onto the B-52H aircraft for use by the U.S. Air Force (USAF). Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) is seeking a new external weapons pylon that will take the B-52’s current 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) maximum external load (across two underwing pylons) to 40,000 lb (18,000 kg). The new pylon would enable the B-52 to carry any of the air-launched munitions in the USAF inventory up to the 22,000 lb Massive Ordnance Air Burst (MOAB) bomb.
This effort is an accelerated Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) Phase that will be approximately 72 months, resulting in a replacement weapons release pylon with a heavy weapon 1760 series capability solution ready to integrate onto the aircraft with required support equipment.
The current Improved Common Pylon (ICP) provides conventional and 1760 weapons carry and release capabilities for the B-52H weapons. The ICP was designed in 1959 and has been in service since the 1960s. When it was introduced, there wasn't a requirement nor did anyone foresee a need to carry weapons heavier than 5000 lbs. It was modified in the late 1990s to incorporate MIL-STD-1760 technology to the current ICP configuration and has performed exceptionally well. Although it has met all expectations to this point, it has limitations when it comes to heavy weight capacity and also due to the weight of new weapons has questionable structural integrity. With current heavy weapons exceeding 5,000 lbs there is a new requirement for a replacement external carriage pylon assembly to facilitate these and other emerging needs.
The plane's external pylons can currently only carry 5,000-pound munitions. The RFI calls for new pylons underneath the aircraft's wings "capable of carrying multiple weapons in the 5,000-lb to 20,000-lb weight class." "This is not a requirement that came out of nowhere," a US defense official told military.com. "There are compelling reasons why we have to go down that road," the official noted, without spelling out what those reasons were.
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