EB-52 “Megafortress” Becomes Reality

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2004

The EB-52 “Megafortress” airplane from Dale Brown’s techno-thrillers may have moved a bit closer to becoming a reality. In July, the USAF began talking about introducing a stand-off jammer (SOJ) electronic warfare version of the B-52 bomber, to enter service as soon as possible. The plan calls for development and fielding of a long-range radar-jamming/radar spoofing under-wing electronics pod. An initial purchase of 12 pods, to be carried by 16 B-52Hs, is being reworked into the 2005 budget. $21.6M of the FY 2005 Air Force budget has been allocated to the Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA). The exact amount of funding that will be allocated to the B-52 SOJ program has not been finalized at this time.

With the retirement of the US’ other EW aircraft, it is falling upon the forty-three-year-old B-52H – of which 104 were built -- to carry on the mission at a time when electronic technology has made it possible to pack enough power into a pod carried by a stand-off aircraft. Not only will the EW pod be too heavy for smaller aircraft, but the associated antenna system will occupy too much space for tactical aircraft to carry. The B-52’s electrical system can also be beefed-up to serve the new pod, and the Stratofortress already has an electronic navigator’s/EW officer’s station. Designed in the 1950s to deliver the then-huge nuclear weapons of the era all the way to the Soviet Union, the B-52 retains its humungous payload capability and is currently the USAF’s only Air Launch Cruise Missile capable combat airplane. Thus, in addition to the new EW pods, it will be able to carry a boatload of the latest generation of both jamming and explosive warhead cruise missiles at altitudes up to 50,000 feet for delivery any place in the world. With an unrefueled combat range of 8,800 miles, it has flown operationally twice as far -- as long as 35 hours -- with inflight refueling.

B-52s are currently operationally based at Barksdale AFB, LA, and Minot AFB, ND, although this might change with a new mission.

“The Air Force envisions the EB-52 to provide a jamming support capability similar to that of the present EA-6B,” said Boeing’s Tom LaRock. The new EW pods will be fitted to the aircraft to replace the existing wing tip fuel tanks. The new electronic attack transmitters and receivers will be integrated into the airplane’s systems. Boeing will be the prime contractor, with various subcontractors supplying the major system components. Modifications are planned to be done at the Boeing-Wichita modification center.

LaRock noted that while the work will initially will include 16 aircraft sharing 12 standoff jamming systems (one of the benefits of pod/modular design), the Air Force long-term plans include modification of 76 aircraft and acquisition of 36 standoff jamming systems. The first 16 aircraft and 12 pods are scheduled to be operational in FY13. The contract dollar value has yet to be determined.

Boeing will conduct a competitive source selection for the jamming equipment on the B-52 SOJ program. Potential suppliers of the jamming equipment include Raytheon, Northrop-Grumman, BAE Systems, and ITT.

The work is being done as a "spiral" development program. Spiral 1 will consist of mounting twin wing pods, each offering 180 degrees coverage, on four B-52s. An initial operational assessment in 2009 will measure the systems ability to jam communications links between enemy radar sites and missile targeting crews. Spiral 2 ends approximately three years later and will offer a capability to detect and jam more advanced radar emitters and "pop-up" targets. Six more B-52s will be done during this spiral, with six more to be modified 12 months later.

While the pods and aircraft mods apply only to USAF aircraft, LaRock said that work is expected to provide some joint capability with allied forces.

Bad news for America's Enemies: This baby'll fry their electronics big-time