During a recent visit to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command spent time with B-52 Stratofortress combined test force officials to preview the combat capability enhancements made to the B-52H.
Modernizing and sustaining the nation’s long-range strike aviation capability is a top priority for the command, Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski, said.
Kowalski also emphasized that this is the “Year of the B-52,” marking both the 50th anniversary of the last delivery of a B-52H to Minot Air Force base, N.D., and the 60th anniversary of the first test flight of the YB-52 prototype.
He attributed the reliability and combat capability of the dual-role bomber to talented maintenance personnel, outstanding depot support and the Air Force’s continued investment in the airframe.
The B-52H is a dual-capable aircraft designed to carry a variety of weapons in support of a range of military operations. It has been projected for a number of upgrades, which have already been made to the two B-52H test aircraft at Edwards AFB.
These upgrades are integral to ensuring the B-52H is both effective and able to fully integrate with other services as envisioned in the Air-Sea Battle concept, according to command officials.
Among the upgrades is a guided “smart weapon” capability in the B-52H’s internal weapons bay that provides a 66 percent increase in guided weapons payloads. Another current program is an upgrade to the latest advanced targeting pod, which will increase the B-52H effectiveness when performing close air support and other missions.
One of the test aircraft at Edwards AFB also featured an improved on-board communications upgrade called combat network communications technology. The CONECT program brings the B-52H from the analog into the digital age, command officials said, providing an invaluable data link, over which to pass mission and threat data.
The new defense strategy places a greater emphasis on the Pacific, Kowalski said, making it important that U.S. bombers are fully networked and integrated with the joint force.
The AFGSC provides a fleet of B-52Hs and a cadre of Airmen from Minot AFB, and Barksdale AFB year-round in support of the continuous bomber presence mission in the Pacific, which ensures stability and peace in the region.
“Long-range, payload, persistence … these three attributes underlie key capabilities provided by Global Strike Command’s B-2 Spirit and B-52H fleet,” said Col. Rick Mitchell, the command’s bomber requirements division chief. “These attributes become increasingly important to combat the ‘tyranny of distance’ posed by the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
These digital enhancements will ensure the viability of the B-52H well into the 21st century, Mitchell said.