Air Force brings 1950s-vintage B-52 bomber into the network-centric 21st century

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio, 31 Aug. 2015. U.S. Air Force avionics experts are preparing to upgrade 28 Boeing B-52 eight-engine strategic jet bombers to enable the venerable aircraft to log-in to the network-centric battlefield.

Air Force brings 1950s-vintage B-52 bomber into the network-centric 21st century
Air Force brings 1950s-vintage B-52 bomber into the network-centric 21st century
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio, 31 Aug. 2015. U.S. Air Force avionics experts are preparing to upgrade 28 Boeing B-52 eight-engine strategic jet bombers to enable the venerable aircraft to log-in to the network-centric battlefield.

Officials of the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, announced a $46.7 million contract Friday to the Boeing Co. Defense, Space & Security segment in Oklahoma City, Okla., for seven full-rate-production Combat Network Communication Technology (CONECT) upgrade kits for the B-52 bomber.

The CONECT upgrades provide the B-52H with digital display screens, computer network servers, and real-time beyond line of sight communication links to enable crews to stay connected to the world throughout their missions.

The contract also calls for Boeing to provide 21 retrofit kits to convert previously purchased B-52 CONECT kits from a low-rate initial production configuration to the full-rate production configuration.

Another facet of CONECT is the addition of networking devices to the aircraft to act as a digital framework, for easy incorporation of new technologies in the future.

Related: Air Force moves forward on upgrading situational-awareness tactical data links on B-52 bomber fleet

Included in the CONECT modification kits are six units of peculiar support equipment; 14 CONECT mission support system ground stations; 114 removable storage devices; and technical support for installation of the CONECT system on the B-52H aircraft -- including with parts and components expected to go obsolete and depot maintenance during the program.

The B-52 CONECT program involves new computers and color displays, key data links, an advanced wideband satellite terminal, and tie-ins to existing Air Force systems to enable B-52s to receive new missions and re-target weapons during flight.

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The Air Force operates 76 B-52s primarily out of Barksdale Air Force Base, La.; Minot Air Force Base, N.D.; and Andersen Air Base, Guam.

These upgrades to the B-52 are designed to improve the aircraft's utility in the modern battlespace and to keep the 50-year-old aircraft capable and lethal until at least 2040, Air Force officials say.

The machine-to-machine interfacing introduced by CONECT also allows for rapid re-tasking and retargeting while eliminating potential human error. This enables the B-52H to conduct digitally aided close-support missions in coordination with tactical air controllers on the ground.

Related: New teeth for an old dog: Air Force seeks to give a bigger bite to B-52H bomber firepower

A combined air and space operations center provides the aircraft with constantly updated threat and targeting data, rather than requiring the crew and mission to depend solely on information that was available only at take-off.

Air Force and Boeing technicians install the CONECT kits aboard each B-52 as it comes in every four years for periodic depot maintenance (PDM) at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Okla. Because CONECT requires making such extensive modifications to the aircraft, the upgrades only can be performed during PDM visits at Tinker Air Force Base.

Equipping a B-52H with CONECT requires nearly 7,000 man-hours to complete, or approximately nine months per aircraft. The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex at Tinker has the capacity to perform as many as 17 of these refits per year. All B-52H's are scheduled to complete the upgrade by 2020.

On this sole-source contract Boeing will do the work in Oklahoma City, Okla., and should be finished by May 2017.

For more information contact Boeing Defense, Space & Security online at www.boeing.com/defense, or the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center at www.wpafb.af.mil/aflcmc.

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