Lacking the stealth of the B-2 and the speed of the B-1, the B-52 remains a frontline combat aircraft because of its exceptional range, unmatched versatility, and flexible payload options. It is debatable whether today’s aviation industry could re-create an airplane with this essential mix of capabilities, but a fully modernized B-52, in combination with the new Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), would provide the USAF with an asymmetrical advantage over both China and Russia that neither is likely to match. Far from being obsolete, the Stratofortress could well serve into the 2050s, making an updated bomber well worth the effort and expense, and ushering in the B-52J Centuryfortress – the 21st century bomber.
The combination of penetrating bomber (LRS-B) and standoff platform (B-52J) could provide a formidable combat capability by the mid-2020s.
A modernized B-52 would improve on the airplane’s basic attributes to better meet these standoff requirements. The objectives of a whole-aircraft modernization would be to extend the service life of the aircraft and adjust to the advances made by adversary systems since the initial design. Under the J proposal, the refitted bombers would receive several upgrades:
- A replacement of the aging TF-33 turbofans with modern, low-maintenance turbofans derived from regional jet designs
- Installation of a modern AESA radar to provide broad area maritime surveillance, ship identification, situational awareness and standoff weapons employment
- Weapons certification upgrade, including JDAM-ER, JASSM-ER, Standard Missile derivatives and antiship weapons
- Certification of NASA’s 25,000-lb. Aerospace Vehicle Pylon as an option in place of Heavy Stores Adapter Beam for Pegasus derivatives.
- Upgrade of communication systems to include Link-16, Iridium, BLOS communications and to provide the baseline for integration into Navy Integrated Fire Control (NIFC).
- Modernization of ESM and EA systems to provide both passive detection and self-projection jamming against the threats capable of addressing a stand-off platform
- Aircraft upgrades, including improved cooling, high-capacity electrical generation, glass cockpit, addition of an APU, removal of excess weight and RVSM compatibility
- Upper Wing Skin replacement (if necessary)
- At the end of the conversion, all remaining B-52H could receive the refit, resulting in around 82 B-52J total aircraft inventory.
There are several modern engines in the regional jet class with similar dimensions and thrust ratings to the TF-33, allowing the 8-engine configuration to be retained while improving fuel consumption by at least 20 percent, eliminating the smoke trail, and maintaining the full flight envelope. A replacement would give the B-52 an unrefueled range of over 9000 nautical miles, allowing strike missions into the South China Sea to be conducted from Hawaii, New Zealand or bases in the Middle East without tanker support.
With a modern sensor and weapons capability, the B-52J could be the most lethal antiship capability ever possessed by the US. A three-ship of Centuryfortress, required to launch from Darwin, will enter the Sulu Sea and begin patrol three hours after takeoff. With the new engines, the B-52J flight will be able to extend its mission duration to 19 hours with a full load of fuel, surveying 2.3 million square nautical miles during a 12-hour on-station time.
Today, the B-1B’s mission capable rate hovers at levels too low to make the aircraft a reliable warfighting platform. The B-2’s sortie rate is extremely low, although the remaining 20 aircraft fill a very special niche. The B-52 is likely to remain the backbone of the bomber force, with its amazingly long range, heavy payload, and the unparalleled flexibility granted by the ability to carry weapons or parasite aircraft externally.
SOURCE - Diplomat