The current modernization program
of the Air Force’s B-52H aims to make the platform even more lethal. According to a recently published RFI the Air Force plans to equip the B-52H wing pylon to carry a single weapon weighing up to the 20,000lb class, which potentially includes the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB). The new pylon will essentially quadruple the weight of bombs that the Boeing B-52H Stratofortress is able to carry externally. The B-52H
subsonic heavy bomber remains the mainstay of the US strategic fleet after more than 50 years of service. The Air Force originally envisioned replacing B-52s with a fleet of supersonic bombers, but the subsonic, long-range H-model has persisted since it entered the fleet in 1961. Instead of transitioning to retirement, the USAF now plans
continue operating the fleet until they reach nearly the century-mark in 2060. The RFI provided no details as to planned costs and timelines for the pylon upgrade, except to say that the total effort from development to fielding should be accomplished between 36 and 72 months.
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…?