US Air Force (USAF) personnel and Boeing are set to start developmental testing on the latest upgrade of the former’s B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber.
The upgrade is being installed by members from the 419th Flight Test Squadron (419th FLTS), the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force, and Boeing. It will modify the bomber’s internal weapons bay through installation of a conventional rotary launcher (CRL) that can carry Military Standard 1760 ‘smart weapons’.
Boeing claims the upgrade is essential as it will increase weapons capability on B-52H’s external wing stations, while adding the smart weapons capability to bomb bay for the first time.
419th FLTS B-52 test pilot captain Ryan Hefron said: "One of the benefits of the 1760 upgrade is it brings a lot of capability to the B-52 we don’t currently have on the aircraft.
"We weren’t able to carry smart weapons inside the bomb bay, but now with the new CRL we’ll be able to carry joint direct attack munitions with the first increment. Also with future increments, we’ll be able to carry joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, and miniature air launched decoys."
"By being able to integrate smart weapons in the bay, we can prosecute more targets, more precisely, while minimising collateral damage.
"It will allow us to perform direct attack, provide close air support for our army brethren on the ground, and be able to execute our overall mission more effectively and efficiently."
Boeing 1760 programme manager Jeff Lupton said: "By providing smart weapons capability in the bay, the bomber can be employed in a clean wing configuration, (meaning) no weapons on the external pylons, thus increasing its range and loiter time.
"The test team, including Boeing and Edwards AFB personnel, will first conduct a series of ground tests to include, Timeline Integration and Electromagnetic Interference Checks.
"After the data analysis and review is complete, we will conduct a series of flight tests to include live weapon releases."
The final stage of the upgrade is expected to include nearly ten test flights to verify the B-52H’s upgraded capability.
The USAF has decided to increase the B-52H fleet’s effectiveness and versatility in 2013 by increasing its smart weapons capacity by more than 50%.
Image: A USAF B-52H Stratofortress bomber at Edwards Air Force Base, California, US. Photo: courtesy of US Air Force / Bobbi Zapka.