This bomber made the B-52 puny
Air Force moves forward with massive fleet-wide modernization of combat-proven Vietnam-era B-52 bomber, an iconic US Army airborne workhorse dating back to from the 1960s.
Engineers are now equipping the Air Force 76 B-52s with digital data links, moving map displays, next-generation avionics, new radios, and the ability to both carry more weapons internally and incorporate new high-tech weapons as they emerge, officials from the service said.
The technical structure and durability of the Air Force’s B-52 cells are described as extremely robust and capable of continuing to fly into the 2040s and beyond. and effective avionics, weapons and technology, Eric Single, Global Strike, Acquisition division chief, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The B-52 has a massive wingspan of 185 feet, a weight of around 185,000 pounds and the ability to reach high subsonic speeds and altitudes of 50,000 feet, Air Force officials said.
âTheir structure, lifespan and cells are good until around 2040. Their structure is very solid. This is not a structural change, but an upgrade of capabilities and avionics, âSingle explained. “You take that old, structurally sound airframe and put in modern avionics, modern communications technology, and modern weapons.”
Known for their massive bombing missions during the Vietnam War, the 159-foot-long B-52s have operated over Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.
The B-52 also served in Operation Desert Storm, according to Air Force statements. “The B-52s hit large concentrations of troops, fixed installations and bunkers, and decimated the morale of the Iraqi Republican Guard,” an air force statement said.
In 2001, the B-52 provided close air support to Afghan forces in Operation Enduring Freedom, service officials said. The B-52 also played a role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. On March 21, 2003, B-52Hs launched approximately 100 CALCMs (Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles) during a night mission.
Given the B-52’s historic role in precision bombing and close air support, next-generation avionics and technologies are expected to dramatically increase the platform’s potential missions in the years to come, officials said. of service.
Communications, avionics upgrades
Two separate but interwoven modernization efforts of the B-52 will increase the electronics, communications technology, computing and avionics available in the cockpit while simultaneously configuring the aircraft with the ability to carry up to eight of the latest. “J-Series” precision guided guns. internally – in addition to carrying six weapons on each wing, Single said.
Eight B-52s have already received a communications (communications systems) upgrade called Combat Network Communication Technology, or CONECT – a radio, electronics, and data link upgrade that, among other things, allows aircrews to transfer mission and targeting data directly to aircraft. systems in flight (machine to machine), Single explained.
“He installs digital architecture on the plane,” Single explained. “Instead of using data that was captured during the mission planning phase before you took off 15 to 20 hours ago, you get near real-time intelligence updates in flight.”
Single described it as a key attribute in terms of âmachine-to-machineâ data transfer technology that enables more efficient, transparent and rapid communication of combat-related information.
Using what is known as an ARC 210 Warrior software programmable voice and data radio, pilots can now send and receive targeting data, mapping information or intelligence with ground stations, control centers. command and other aircraft.
âThe crew has the ability to communicate digitally outside the aircraft, which allows you to import not only voice, but also data for mission changes, threat notifications, targeting. .. all of these different types of things that you would need, âSingle said.
The ability to receive real-time targeting updates is of great importance to the B-52’s close air support mission, as fluid, fast-paced or dynamic combat situations often mean ground targets appear. , change or disappear quickly.
In addition to moving much of the avionics from analog to digital technology, CONECT also incorporates new servers, modems, color display screens in place of the old monochrome green and provides pilots with digital displays. of moving maps that can be filled with real-time threat and mission data. , says Single.
The new digital screens also display colorful graphics highlighting the aircraft’s flight path, he added.
Single explained that the ability to update key combat information while in transit will significantly help the aircraft fly longer distances for missions, as needed.
“The key to all of this is that it’s part of the long range strike system family – so if you take off from Barksdale Air Force Base and get to your target area it might take 15 or 16 hours to get there. get there. By the time you get there, all of the threat information has changed, âSingle said. âThings move, appear or disappear and the targeting data may be different. ”
The upgrades will also improve the aircraft’s ability to receive key intelligence information through a data link called the Intelligence Broadcast Receiver. In addition, the B-52s will be able to receive information via a high-speed digital LINK-16 data link capable of transmitting targeting and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance or ISR information.
CONECT’s effort, which is expected to cost a total of $ 1.1 billion, will continue over the next several years, Single explained.
Twelve B-52s will be operational with CONECT by the end of this year and the entire fleet will be ready by 2021, Single said.
The Air Force is also making headway with a technology-inspired effort to increase weapon payload for the workaholic bomber, Single added.
The upgrade to the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay, or IWBU, will allow the B-52 to internally carry up to eight of the latest “J Series” bombs in addition to carrying six on pylons beneath each. wing, he explained.
The B-52s were previously capable of carrying JDAM weapons outdoors, but with the IWBU, the aircraft will be able to house some of the most advanced precision guided joint direct attack munitions and weapons internally. joint air-to-surface ranged missiles, among others.
âThis is about a 66% increase in the transport capacity of the B-52, which is huge. You can imagine the increased number of targets you can hit, and you can hit the same number of targets with a lot less hits, âSingle said.
Single also added that having an increased internal weapon bay capacity helps increase fuel efficiency by removing bombs under the wings and reducing drag.
The first increment of the IWBU, which is expected to be completed by 2017, will incorporate an internal weapon bay capability to fire a laser-guided JDAM. A second increment, to be completed by 2022, will incorporate more modern or advanced weapons such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, JASSM Extended Range (ER) and a technology called Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD. A MALD-J “jammer” variant, which will also be built into the B-52, can also be used to jam enemy radar technologies, Single said.
The IWBU, which uses a digital interface and a rotary launcher to increase weapon payload, is expected to cost around $ 313 million, service officials said.