L3Harris has tested an upgrade to the B-52 Stratofortress’ electronic warfare capabilities, marking a moment in the aircraft’s modernisation journey.

A 5.3-hour test flight, conducted over Texas, validated the performance of five newly enhanced Line Replaceable Units (LRUs) within the AN/ALQ-172 electronic warfare (EW) self-protection system. This breakthrough emphasises the aircraft’s continued evolution in response to increasingly sophisticated electronic threats.

Through its modernisation project, L3Harris is fronting efforts to keep the US Air Force’s (USAF) B-52 relevant. The recent test, a component of a $947m, 10-year contract awarded in 2021, demonstrated enhancements in maintainability and reliability, setting the stage for future advancements.

Acquired from Boeing in 1961-1962, the US Air Force has 76 B-52 Stratofortress bomber aircraft in its fleet, as highlighted by GlobalData’s intelligence on the US defence market.

Jimmy Mercado, L3Harris Programme Director, explained, “The electronic threat landscape grows more complex and contested every day, underscoring the importance of our continued EW enhancements to the B-52.

The flight test showed that we’re providing the advanced capabilities needed to ensure the aircraft and its crews remain mission-ready and effective well into the 2050s.”

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So far in 2024, the US has invested $5bn in electronic warfare technology. This expenditure reveals America’s leveraging of electromagnetic spectrum capabilities to enhance its military operations. As nations like Russia and China expand their electronic warfare capabilities, competition in this arena is intense.

The road ahead

The MARS upgrade, central to this project, has already seen the redesign of seven out of nine LRUs, with the final two nearing completion. These upgrades are poised to enhance the USAF’s Global Strike Mission, bolstering the B-52’s role in modern warfare. Notably, the improvements also aim to simplify and reduce the cost of future updates.

L3Harris’ approach to enhancing the B-52 Stratofortress reveals the importance of solutions in maintaining aerial presence. The test flight demonstrates the legacy and future potential of one of the USAF’s most storied aircraft.

The US Air Force (USAF) faces dual challenges with its B-52 Stratofortress fleet. Recent audits revealed shortcomings in spare parts management amidst ongoing modernisation efforts. A Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General report highlights deficiencies in addressing material shortages crucial to sustaining the ageing fleet.