The cost increases have more to do with integrating the engines on the B-52, which is a Boeing effort, and has less to do with the engines themselves, which will be built by Rolls-Royce.
According to an interesting article appeared on Air Force Magazine, revelations in a House Armed Services panel hearing the cost of the B-52 re-engining program (B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program, CERP) has increased 50 percent because of integration issues.
“We currently believe there is cost growth from our design work that we did originally through the middle-tier acquisition program to what we anticipate we’ll be looking at [in] Milestone B,” which evaluates readiness for entry into the engineering and manufacturing development phase, US Air Force (USAF) acquisition executive Andrew P. Hunter said.
Hunter explained that the B-52 CERP has been conducted as a middle-tier acquisition program to get underway rapidly and develop a prototype system but is now moving to a “traditional” program, and the USAF is firming up the costs it expects to pay. He pointed out that the cost increases have more to do with integrating the engines on the B-52, which is a Boeing effort, and has less to do with the engines themselves, which will be built by Rolls-Royce.
“I want to emphasize that a lot of that engineering work is actually inside the airplane, on the support struts, to which the engines attach, versus the engine itself, which is largely a commercial engine that already exists,” Hunter said. The engine needs only “a modest number of modifications,” he said.
“So it’s really about re-engineering 1960s aircraft to perform all the way through” to the end of the B-52’s lifetime, now envisioned as circa 2050.
In 2021 the CERP effort had already increased in cost by nine percent because of pandemic-related supply issues, to about $11 billion.
Hunter did not speculate on a new cost estimate.
He said that the end of the risk reduction and prototyping phase is rapidly approaching and when it’s done, “we’ll have an effective design … [that will] allow us to go into an acquisition program to allow us to do that re-engining.”
At Milestone B, “we will … have in our hands the real, full cost of what it will take to do it, and we’ll set the original baseline for the full program … at that point,” Hunter said.
The Air Force will “assess” at that milestone whether “it still makes sense to move forward with that program,” Hunter said, adding, however, that “we will need a new engine for the B-52 to get it out to its full lifetime.”
Boeing said in an email response to a query from Air Force Magazine that the “50 percent differential in the CERP cost comes from an original, 2017 government estimate produced by the Air Force program office, compared to the latest 2022 estimate.”
The company said it “is our understanding that the government’s estimate has been adjusted over the years from the initial business case analysis, developed at a very early phase of the acquisition, to incorporate additional complexity” as well as “further historical fidelity on similar programs, as well as additional understanding of technical scope and complexity of the design.”
Rolls-Royce North America said through a spokesperson that the company “has been collaborating closely with the Air Force and program integrator Boeing on the CERP program.” There have been “no changes in engine pricing since the contract was awarded.”
The Air Force was not able to comment on the B-52 CERP cost increase by press time.
Last September, the Department of the US Air Force has awarded a $2,604,329,361 contract to Rolls-Royce Corporation, Indianapolis, Indiana, for B-52H Stratofortress military derivative commercial engines.
The competitive single award contract provides for 608 military derivative commercial engines, plus spare engines (for a total of 650 engines), associated support equipment and commercial engineering data, to include sustainment activities, to be used on the B-52H bomber fleet.
The Rolls-Royce F130 engine will replace the TF33-PW-103, which has powered the B-52 since the 1960s, and is projected to no longer be supportable beyond 2030.
The decision means the American-made Rolls-Royce F-130 engine will power the B-52 for the next 30 years. The F130 and its commercial family of engines have accumulated more than 27 million engine flight hours. A variant of the Rolls Royce engine selected to power the iconic B-52 is already in service with the USAF around the world, powering both the C-37 and E-11 BACN aircraft.
According to Rolls Royce, once installed, the F130 can stay on wing for the entire planned B-52 lifetime. In addition, the F130 engine will provide vastly greater fuel efficiency, increased range, and reduced tanker aircraft requirements.
“The B-52 CERP is a complex upgrade that not only updates the aircraft with new engines, but updates the flight deck area, struts and nacelles,” Brig. Gen. John Newberry, Air Force bombers program executive officer, said last September in a USAF news release.
“Our current virtual digital prototyping efforts are giving us an opportunity to integrate the engines and other changes to the B-52 before doing any physical modifications. This has allowed us to develop the most cost-efficient solution while reducing the time from concept to production.”
Photo credit: Rolls Royce