Officially, it’s the B-52H Stratofortress. Unofficially, it’s the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F–cker). Either way, this subsonic heavy bomber remains the mainstay of the U.S. strategic fleet after more than 50 years of service. A total of 102 B-52H bombers were delivered from FY 1961-1963, and 94 were still on the books as of May 2009, flying mostly from Barksdale AFB, LA and Minot AFB, ND. Of these, 18 are slated for retirement, leaving a planned fleet of 76. By the time that fleet retires in the 2030s, many will be around 70 years old.
The B-52H can’t be flown against heavy enemy air defenses, but a steady array of upgrades have kept the aircraft relevant to follow-on strikes and current wars, where its long time on station and precision weapons have made the BUFF beautiful. Those changes have included advanced communications, GPS guided weapons, advanced targeting pods, and more. The USAF isn’t done yet adding new features, and maintenance remains a challenge for an aircraft fleet that’s always older than its pilots. All of these things require contracts, and the B-52H fleet has several of them underway. So, how does 2010’s 8-year, $11.9 billion umbrella contract fit in…?