Boeing B-52 set to receive major radar upgrade

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The US Air Force is moving forward with a major new upgrade for the half-century-old Boeing B-52H fleet, focused on replacing the bomber's radar, which is roughly 30 years old.

The Northrop Grumman APQ-166 strategic radar is nearing the end of its useful life and will be replaced on 76 B-52Hs, the USAF says in a request for information issued to industry. The new system will perform all of the mission functions now performed by the APQ-166 mechanically scanned array, but provide "new and enhanced capabilities", the air force says.

Although active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology is now available off the shelf and being integrated on the Northrop B-2A bomber fleet, the air force document stops short of demanding that level of technology integration for the B-52H.

 © USAF

"The main focus of the [Strategic Radar Replacement (SR2)] programme is sustainability/supportability," the air force says.

Budget documents indicate the programme is well-funded. The SR2 line item in the air force's fiscal year 2011 budget request contains $151.3 million to complete development and production through 2022. The air force plans to launch the development in late FY2013, following an analysis of alternatives phase and a competitive contract selection.

The SR2 requirement is the latest major B-52 upgrade to emerge as the air force protects its investment in a fleet that entered service in the mid-1950s, but continues to be relied on heavily today in combat operations.

The USAF also is upgrading the B-52's ability to communicate with other forces in the combat network communication technology programme. It is also integrating extremely high-frequency antennas on the B-52 fleet.