A long-awaited effort to re-engine the 76-strong Boeing B-52H fleet would start no earlier than fiscal year 2020, but the USAF’s head of Global Strike Command feels a final decision to lengthen the 60-year-old Boeing aircraft’s life is closer than ever.
Last year, the air force released a request for information evaluating financing alternatives for a potential B-52 re-engining effort. The service has been exploring financing alternatives including an operating lease, service contract and other hybrid financing options in order to fund what it estimates would be a multi-billion effort to replace 650 engines across the fleet, according to the RFI. The air force is still deciding when to release a request for proposal, Gen Robin Rand told reporters this week.
“This is all part of the [fiscal year] 2020 planning choices we’re talking about, so on the table,” he says. “I feel positive but I’m not going to try to hem in the chief or secretary, but I think we’re closer to getting a decision on re-engining than any time that I’ve been the commander.”
Rand emphasized the USAF would not implement the effort until FY2020, if the re-engining even happens.
Meanwhile, the service is waiting until the fiscal year 2018 defense budget passes before deciding where trades could be made to fund the bomber. After passing the House and Senate this week, the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorisation Act is on its way to President Donald Trump’s desk. The Senate recently passed its version of the appropriations bill that would fund the FY2018 NDAA.
“I think we’ve made a compelling case that one, the B-52 is going to be around and it warrants being re-engined for a lot of reasons that I’ve talked a lot about for the last two years,” Rand says.
Though Rand has reiterated the need for a new engine, it’s not clear whether the effort will even occur under his tenure. After a TF33 engine from a B-52 during a training mission last January, former USAF Secretary Deborah Lee James maintained the accident would not accelerate an effort to replace the bomber’s aging Pratt & Whitney engines. But industry still appears prepped for a competition, with Rolls Royce already pitching the BR725 engine and GE Aviation offering the CF34-10.