The U.S. Air Force has planned to modernize its fleet of long-range bombers well into the 2040s. The contract was awarded to United Defense, General Electric, United Technologies, and Rockwell Collins. The deadline for completion of the contract is 2019. After that period, the USAF will begin to upgrade its fleets of B-1 and B-2 bombers.
The B-52 Stratofortress external link remains the mainstay of the U.S. strategic bomber force, and in-theater combat communications improvements may allow it to make better use of advanced weapons like the JDAM. The B-52H, which went into service in 1961, is the only remaining B-52 model in use by the USAF. It flies slightly faster than a 767, operating at high subsonic speeds and altitudes up to 50,000 feet, and carrying either nuclear or precision-guided conventional weapons. On-going modifications have added global positioning system compatibility for the aircraft and weapons, targeting pods like the LITENING, heavy stores adapter beams for carrying 2,000-pound munitions, and an array of advanced weapons.
The FY 2015 White House budget request outlined, “The ‘CONECT’ upgrade installs new multi-functional color displays (MFCDs) and a digital interphone system, which will survive and function through the nuclear environment to enhance crew interaction and situational awareness. To enable net centric operations, the ‘CONECT’ upgrade installs on-board client/server architecture supporting distributed processing with independent control functions; UHF Beyond Line-Of-Sight (BLOS) Joint Range Extension (JRE) capability via ARC-210 Warrior radio to exchange J-Series messaging within theater; Intelligence Broadcast Receiver; limited Internet Protocol (IP)-based UHF BLOS link supporting email and file transfers; and Improved Data Modem (IDM)-based digital Variable Message Format (VMF) datalink to significantly enhance close air support (CAS) missions. This integrated suite, when produced and installed, will provide the B-52 fleet with a machine-to-machine capability supporting aircraft re-tasking and re-targeting of Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile (CALCM) and J-series weapons across the range of military operations the B-52 is assigned.”
The USAF stated on April 10, 2014, “A B-52 crew from Tinker AFB’s 10th Flight Test Squadron flew the 1st CONECT B-52 back to Barksdale AFB, LA.”