The Air Force has set aside $10 million in its fiscal 2018 budget request for risk-reduction efforts in support of a potential future B-52 bomber re-engining program.
If approved, the move could be a crucial first step to boost the service life of the B-52 Stratofortress long-range bomber — already pushing more than 60 years in its lifespan.
The budget also includes $227 million for B-52 modifications, Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews said in an email to Military.com.
In total, the request allocates $1.34 billion across fiscal 2018 to 2022 to support efforts including a radar modernization program; Combat Network Communications Technology; the 1760 internal weapons bay upgrade; and tactical data link integration, McAndrews said.
For example, the internal weapons bay upgrade, or IWBU, “nearly doubles the number of [GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions] a single plane can carry,” said Capt. Kenny, a 96th Bomb Squadron instructor weapon systems officer whose last name was withheld for security reasons.
“This new capability also extends our range by reducing the amount of drag that external weapons produce,” he said in a 2016 Air Force release.
Lawmakers have prioritized the need to modernize, given that the Air Force anticipates flying the B-52 into the 2040s. The aircraft, known throughout the force as the BUFF, or “Big Ugly Fat Fellow,” could gain better fuel-efficiency if the engines are replaced, officials have said.
“Air Force leadership has … acknowledged that new engines would provide a 95 percent reduction in engine maintenance, virtually eliminating engine overhauls and reducing fuel consumption by 30 percent,” Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo of Guam said May 25 during a House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee hearing.
“Does the Air Force have a plan to re-engine the B-52 to take advantage of benefits that would afford in terms of future cost avoidance and operational benefits?” she asked.
Testifying at the hearing about the Air Force’s fiscal 2018 budget request were Lt. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, the military deputy at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition; Lt. Gen. Jerry D. Harris, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements; and Maj. Gen. Scott A. Vander Hamm, assistant deputy chief of staff for Air Force operations.
“So we … do realize that the engines we have on the B-52 are not going to last through the life of the program. We’re either going to have to do a service-life extension program or we’ll have to procure new engines,” Bunch said.
“We’re looking at all of those options right now. We have some money in the ’18 budget to do some of those initial analyses and look at all those alternatives,” he said, referring to the $10 million in risk-reduction efforts.
Bunch added that the re-engining effort would not be simply for fuel savings, but would extend to tanker savings, operational implications, and manpower savings “by not having to use as many maintainers on the flight line to be able to maintain those older engines, as well as what you talked about with the time it stays on the wing and the operational viability.”
The B-52, under Air Force Global Strike Command, has been invaluable in efforts such as Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and most recently in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.