The US Air Force wants to spend more than $500 million replacing the outdated Northrop Grumman AN/APQ-166 mechanically scanned array radar on its 53-year-old Boeing B-52H fleet.

The old battlewagon, which ceased production in 1962, will not retire anytime soon, but needs a replacement radar if it is to continue supporting nuclear and conventional missions, says USAF deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements Lt Gen Mike Holmes.

“It provides missions for us that are hard to replicate, primarily the range and payload,” Holmes said at an Air Force Association forum in Washington DC on 18 February. “The radar currently flying on the B-52 is limited by its mean time between failure.

“It’s an old radar. It doesn’t have the reliability we’d like to have, and if you’re flying long-duration missions and you get to a two-digit mean time between failure, it means you’re flying around with a broken radar a lot.”


US Air Force

The proposed B-52 Radar Modernisation Programme (RMP) receives $491 million across the air force’s latest five-year spending plan, unveiled 9 February, and even more money is needed beyond 2021.

It accounts for 71% of proposed B-52H modernisation spending through fiscal year 2021, which totals $691 million.
Holmes says the air force is still working through its radar acquisition strategy, but will most likely modify existing radar technologies and components to suit the B-52H instead of developing something new.

The air force has already replaced the legacy Northrop APQ-164 radar on the Boeing/Rockwell B-1B and has long considered doing the same for the APQ-166 on the B-52. A re-engining programme is also being considered to replace the B-52’s eight Pratt & Whitney TF33s (JT3Ds) turbofan engines, but that effort has not been funded.


US Air Force

According to the current radar plan, an analysis of alternatives will be completed in 2017 ahead of technology maturation and prototyping in preparation for a competition in 2019, according to budget documents.

If approved by Congress, 76 of the strategic bombers will receive new radars. Last week, Holmes expressed concern that the air force's wide-ranging nuclear modernisation plans, which includes development of the Northrop "B-3" or Long-Range Strike Bomber, become unmanageable in 2022 and beyond and will need to be considered by the next US government administration.