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Air Force Begins B-52 Upgrades

by Kris Osborn on October 16, 2013

B-52 successfully tests alternative jet engine fuelThe Air Force is reaching milestones with its ongoing effort to upgrade and modernize the B-52 bomber, an iconic workhorse battle-tested aircraft first built in the 1950s, service officials said.

The service is making progress with efforts to upgrade the electronics and communications technology of the B-52 aircraft and also moving along with an initiative to configure the aircraft with the ability to carry up to eight J-Series precision-guided weapons internally – in addition to carrying six weapons on each wing, Air Force officials said.

Over the summer, a B-52 from Barksdale Air Force Base was delivered to Tinker Air Force Base for depot maintenance. This is the first operational aircraft slated for the Air Force’s Combat Network Communication Technology, or CONECT, upgrade for the B-52, according to Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick.

CONECT upgrades include software and hardware such as new servers, modems, radios, data-links, receivers and digital workstations for the crew.  Some of the individual elements include the ARC-210 Warrior, a beyond-line-of-sight software programmable radio able to transmit voice, data and information in real time between the B-52s and ground command and control centers

The radio allows for the transmission and receipt of data packets and files with updated intelligence, mapping or targeting information while the aircraft is in flight, officials said.

Computer screens in the cockpit will provide digital moving maps of nearby terrain as well as graphics showing the aircraft’s flight path.  The upgrades will also improve the ability of the airplane 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 through LINK-16, a known high-speed digital data link able to transmit targeting and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or ISR information.

Meanwhile, the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade program is also making progress. The upgrade, which will allow the B-52 to internally carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” bombs in addition to carrying six on pylons under each wing, transitioned last month from the Technology Development phase into the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development (EMD) phase, Gulick added.

The EMD phase contract, awarded to Boeing on Sept. 18, will lead to the procurement of the first three modified rotary launchers, Gulick added.

The B-52 had previously been able to carry some bombs internally, but with the IWBU the aircraft will be able to internally house some of the most cutting-edge precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, among others.

The IWBU results in a 66-percent increase in weapons carriage capability for the B-52, Air Force officials said.

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