In an effort to expand operational test and accelerate capability to the warfighter, the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron and 340th Weapons Squadron have joined forces to form an integrated team focused on testing and developing tactics for un-fielded B-52 Stratofortress systems.
As explained by Capt Lindsey Heflin, 53rd Wing, in the article B-52 Operational Test and Weapons School form “Super Squadron”, this program provides a robust look at systems under test while giving the community’s sharpest tacticians attached to the US Air Force Weapons School a first look at the new systems before they are released to the warfighter.
“There cannot be a gradual building block approach to employing the B-52 as it modernizes,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Spinelli, 49th TES commander. “The B-52 is the foundational part of strategic deterrence; we need to start at a full sprint to keep pace in the ever-changing geostrategic environment. The synergies gained by this WPS and OT endeavor will help ensure we do just that.”
Recently, the integrated squadron participated in Northern Edge 23, where they gained valuable insights into B-52 datalink modifications with Agile Pod and Link-16, which allowed the team to provide inputs into mission planning and tactical execution. Following the exercise, 340th WPS Instructors took the data and created familiarization academics for new Link-16 hardware that has since been implemented into current courseware for weapons school classes.
“By developing TTPs now for software and hardware currently undergoing OT, we enable our students to anticipate change and adapt training plans to build baseline knowledge. This shallows the learning curve in squadrons when these systems become operational,” said Capt. Matthew Bowyer, 340th Weapons Squadron instructor.
With a projected service life of around 100 years, the B-52 is programmed for an unprecedented amount of upgrades and improvements never before seen in its sixty plus years of service.
Even though the Stratofortress was introduced in 1955, Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere said in March that doesn’t make it a legacy platform. “We’re updating everything—new radar, engines, upgraded communications, and datalink capabilities,” he said. While the B-52 is not a stealth platform, its large payload makes it ideal for a wide variety of munitions, including long-range standoff missiles and hypersonic weapons.
As already reported the first B-52 bomber to get the AESA radar arrived at Boeing facility in San Antonio in May.
As the USAF migrates toward the two-bomber fleet of B-21s and B-52s the new AESA radar, in the form of the APG-79B4, is a “game changer” for the BUFF. The APG-79 is effectively the same radar as on the export version of the Navy F/A-18 fighter, with the array turned “upside down” so it looks more down at the ground than up at the sky.
The APG-79 will be a fighter-quality radar and will be used not only to support air-to-ground operations but will also be better able to operate with other coalition partners because the bomber will be able to use the same sensor format. It will be able to scan farther, guide weapons in flight, and improve the bomber’s situational awareness.
Flight testing with the new radar will start in late 2025, and the first production versions should be built around the same time. They’ll be installed in early 2027 and initial operational capability (IOC) with the radar will consist of 12 aircraft as the required assets available for the declaration.
The USAF expects B-52Js with both new engines and new radars to be available for operational use before the end of the decade.
Added capabilities and mission refocus will require not only training, but cultural change in the roles and responsibilities of B-52 aircrew to support these momentous modernization efforts. This shift in focus starts with the Tier 1 weapons officers being trained at the USAF Weapons School today, who will carry that change to their follow-on squadrons and mold the next generation of B-52 aircrew.
Photo credit: William R. Lewis / U.S. Air Force
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