OKLAHOMA CITY Boeing will continue to increase the B-52 bomber's effectiveness and versatility under a new Air Force contract that calls for the aircraft's smart weapons capacity to expand by 50 percent.
Minot Air Force Base's 5th Bomb Wing has B-52s. The Minot base and Barksdale AFB, La., are the only bases with B-52s.
Under the $24.6 million agreement, Boeing will develop a modification to existing weapon launchers so the aircraft can carry smart weapons in the bomb bay, allowing aircrews to use the B-52's entire weapons capacity.
B-52 bombers, like these at Minot Air Force Base, will have their smart weapons capacity expanded by 50 percent. The Air Force has awarded Boeing a $24.6 million contract for the work. This photo showing some B-52s was taken Oct. 8 from Minot AFB’s new air traffic control tower.
"When you combine that ability with the extremely long flying time of the B-52, you have an efficient and versatile weapon system that is very valuable to warfighters on the ground," said Scot Oathout, B-52 program director in Oklahoma City. "This weapons capacity expansion joins the CONECT program, a comprehensive communication upgrade currently being installed on the aircraft, to give the warfighter even more flexibility."
Boeing will produce three prototype launchers for test and evaluation. Initial capability is expected in March 2016, and potential follow-on efforts could add additional weapons and allow a mixed load of different types of weapons.
Following the upgrade's first phase, the B-52s will be able to carry 24 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions or 20 2,000-pound JDAMs. Later phases will add the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile and its extended range variant, as well as the Miniature Air Launched Decoy and its jammer variant.
The bomb bay upgrade will also enable the B-52 to carry weapons internally only, increasing fuel efficiency in flight. The modernization work will use parts from existing Air Force rotary launchers repurposed for conventional missions, as well as hardware and software already developed for the wing pylons.