The USAF expects B-52J bombers with both new engines and new radars to be available for operational use before the end of the decade.
According to the US Air Force’s fiscal 2024 budget documents, once they receive their new Rolls Royce F130 engines, B-52Hs will become B-52Js.
As explained by Air & Space Forces Magazine, the designation resolves a question that had been debated for several years, as the B-52 undergoes some of the most significant improvements in the H model’s 61-year service life.
The service said in justification documents for its 2024 budget request that “Any B-52H aircraft modified with the new commercial engines and associated subsystems are designated as B-52J.”
As already reported, the USAF had been considering various designations for the improved Stratofortress, because in addition to new engines, the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F****r, as the B-52 is dubbed by its aircrew) will also be receiving a new radar, as well as new communications and navigation equipment and weapons, among other improvements intended to keep it credible and capable through the 2050s.
Given the number of major changes, Global Strike Command had considered using interim designations—“J” model aircraft would have then become B-52Ks.
One of the improved weapons the B-52 was supposed to get was the hypersonic AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), but in the 2024 budget, the Air Force said it’s moving to “close out” the program after a couple more tests and shift its emphasis to the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM).
The B-52 re-engining project name has also evolved from the Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP) to CERP RVP, for Rapid Virtual Prototyping, the Air Force said in its budget request.
The USAF said that the re-engining effort was launched as a mid-tier acquisition in order to save time and get capability sooner. The program will become a Major Capability Acquisition at the end of the RVP effort.
Besides the new Rolls-Royce F130 engines, the BUFF will receive a new radar in the form of the new APG-79B4 active, electronically scanned array radar (AESA).
As the USAF migrates toward the two-bomber fleet of B-21s and B-52s the new AESA radar 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. The B-52 today is still flying with its 1960s mechanical-scan radar.
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.
The B-52 was America’s first long-range, swept-wing heavy bomber. It began as an intercontinental, high-altitude nuclear bomber, and its operational capabilities were adapted to meet changing defense needs.
B-52s have been modified for low-level flight, conventional bombing, extended-range flights and transport of improved defensive and offensive equipment — including ballistic and cruise missiles that can be launched hundreds of miles from their targets.
With each variant, the B-52 increased in range, power and capability. In all, 744 B-52s were produced by Seattle, Wash., and Wichita, Kan., plants between 1952 and 1962.
Throughout the 1950s, the B-52 chalked up many distance and speed records. It cut the round-the-world speed record in half, and in January 1962, flew 12,500 miles (20,117 kilometers) nonstop from Japan to Spain without refueling. This flight alone broke 11 distance and speed records.
Photo credit: Boeing