EB-52 “Megafortress” Becomes Reality

(c) gps333@charter.net

As The Nav Log noted back in 2004, the EB-52 “Megafortress” airplane from Dale Brown’s techno-thrillers was moving closer to becoming a reality. In July of that year, 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 called 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, was being worked into the 2005 budget. $21.6M of the FY 2005 Air Force budget had been allocated to the Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA). The exact amount of funding to be allocated to the B-52 SOJ program had not been finalized at that time.

As of July, 2008, the U.S. Air Force has revived the program to convert some of its B-52 heavy bombers into radar jamming aircraft. This will be done by attaching external jamming pods to wing hard points. This latest plan is the purchase of twenty-four sets of pods for a fleet of 34 EB-52s. Each pair of pods, including amortized R&D, is estimated to cost approximately $100 million.

Jamming has most recently been the job of the EA-6E, which is being retired. Although the Navy is replacing these aircraft with the EA-18G "Growler" jamming aircraft, the USAF doesn't believe there will be enough of these aircraft to serve both the Navy and the Air Force (another reason may well be the bomber generals' desire to keep as many heavy bombers in service as possible). The Navy plans to buy about fifty EA-18Gs, for about $73 million each. It will take at least five years to get the EB-52 into service as long as current cost and production estimates prove reliable.

The current B-52 fleet is 47 years old and consists of 104 aircraft. The B-52's enormous electrical generation capability will make it possible to power add-on EW pods where smaller aircraft cannot. 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.

“The Air Force envisions the EB-52 to provide a jamming support capability similar to that of the present EA-6B,” said Boeing in 2004. 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.

In 2004 Boeing estimated that the long-term plans included modification of 76 aircraft and acquisition of 36 standoff jamming systems. The first 16 aircraft and 12 pods are still scheduled to be operational in FY13. The contract dollar value has yet to be determined.

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

Return to The Nav Log