August 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 4 
Integrated Defense Systems

Ready for the next 50 years

B-52 adds firepower and network-centric strength for future ops


Ready for the next 50 yearsAt age 50, most people start thinking about retiring. But retirement won’t be coming anytime soon for the U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress, thanks to the men and women of Boeing’s Logistics Support Systems in Wichita, Kan.

For 50 years, the B-52 fleet has been the primary manned strategic bomber for the United States. The long-range, heavy bomber can fly at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters), and can carry nuclear or precision-guided conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability.

The newest chapter in the B-52’s history began in June during a joint Boeing/U.S. Air Force test to successfully demonstrate another new avionics system capability for the B-52—one that greatly increases the heavy bomber’s ability to deliver precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs).

On June 14, a B-52 from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., took off for the Utah Test and Training Range equipped with Boeing’s prototype Integrated Weapons Interface Unit. The IWIU allowed the bomber to release, for the first time, eight 2,000-pound JDAMs on a Common Strategic Rotary Launcher from the B-52’s internal bomb bay. All eight JDAMs, built by Boeing in St. Charles, Mo., were released and hit their targets. Previously, the B-52 could release JDAMs only from its wing pylons.

“This demonstration shows that the prototype IWIU, when fully developed and qualified for production, will be capable of extending the combat role of the B-52,” said Dana Thompson, chief engineer for the project. As a result, Thompson said the number of precision-guided JDAM weapons the B-52 can carry increases from 12 to 20.

But to deploy those weapons effectively and increase the aircraft’s value to the warfighter, the B-52 must be enabled for tomorrow’s network-centric world.

That transformation began in March when the U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing a $216.7 million contract to begin the system design and development phase for the B-52 Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) program. The program will improve the B-52’s ability to share data with other military systems and platforms, and allow aircraft crews to retask missions and weapons during flight. The Air Force plans to modify the entire B-52 fleet after the development phase concludes in 2009.

We see the B-52 CONECT program as the enabler for network-centric operational capability on the B-52. CONECT will allow B-52 mission transformation through information integration, both on-board and off-board the aircraft, creating new warfighting roles not previously anticipated,” said Scot Oathout, Bomber program manager for Logistics Support Systems.

June 29 marked the 50th anniversary of the first B-52 delivery to the Air Force. The aircraft’s lifespan has been calculated to extend beyond the year 2040. Programs under way in Wichita will ensure the B-52 remains the most versatile and cost-effective bomber ever built.


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