Military Aviation

The First B-52 bomber to get the AESA radar arrives at Boeing facility in San Antonio

A B-52 from the 307th Bomb Wing arrived at a Boeing, facility in San Antonio, on May 25, to begin receiving the AESA radar, as part of the Air Force’s B-52 Radar Modernization Program.

A B-52 from the 307th Bomb Wing arrived at a Boeing, facility in San Antonio, on May 25, to begin receiving the Active Electronically Scanned Array system (AESA), as part of the Air Force’s B-52 Radar Modernization Program, Brian Brackens, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Public Affairs, explains in the article U.S. Air Force kicks off Radar Modernization for B-52 Stratofortress fleet.

“The arrival of this aircraft is a big deal, and signals the beginning of a key part of our effort to modernize the B-52 fleet,” said Col. Louis Ruscetta, Senior Materiel Leader for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s B-52 Program Office, which is leading the Radar Modernization Program, and overall effort to modernize the bomber. “AESA will replace 1960s radar technology, and greatly increase the navigation and targeting capabilities of the B-52 in higher threat areas.”

In addition to increased situational awareness and navigation and targeting ability, AESA is designed to be adaptable, so that new capabilities to address future threats, can be added via software modifications.

Boeing and Raytheon are both heavily involved in the installation process.

A B-52 arrives at Joint Base San Antonio. The aircraft will undergo installation of a new radar system at a nearby Boeing facility.

“Boeing is the OEM [original equipment manufacturer] for the B-52, so their long-standing history and knowledge of the platform is really critical to making sure we can get this [AESA] out as quickly as possible,” he said. “We are also working with Raytheon on the radar side. Overall, the partnership helps ensure we have a government off-the-shelf solution that minimizes development and helps reduce both the development and test timelines.”

Installation of AESA is one of the largest upgrades to the B-52 in the history of the fleet. The effort will cost approximately $2.8 billion, with initial operational capability expected in 2027.

“Sustainability is an important part of this effort, because the old radar is unsustainable,” said Ruscetta. “The advancement in combat capability that AESA will bring is really critical in keeping this aircraft effective with our near-peer adversaries. The new radar is an enabler for our long-range standoff capability and will prepare the aircraft for optimized lethality.”

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.

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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.

As we have already reported, according to the US Air Force’s fiscal 2024 budget documents, once they receive their new Rolls Royce F130 engines and AESA radars, B-52Hs will become B-52Js.

The USAF expects B-52Js with both new engines and new radars to be available for operational use before the end of the decade.

Photo credit: Boeing

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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