Heavenly Gran Torino
It is difficult to find the epithets that could describe the strategic bomber B-52. “The most deserved”, “the most deadly”, “the oldest” - these are just words that cannot even convey a tenth of a percent the greatness of a combat vehicle. Perhaps the best definition for the B-52 is the symbol of the Cold War.
And it doesn’t matter that in the course of the Soviet-American confrontation, the role aviation as an element of nuclear deterrence, it was largely leveled by intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine ballistic missiles. This did not prompt the United States to abandon its "stratospheric fortresses": the plane was able to prove itself in Vietnam, in the Gulf Wars, in the operation against Yugoslavia. The “strategist” fought in Syria and Afghanistan. At the same time, combat aircraft of this type played an important role: it is known that in the first months of Operation Enduring Freedom, various strategic bombers completed only 20% of the total number of sorties, but dropped more than 70% of the total tonnage of aviation munitions.
But the passage of time cannot be stopped: we recall that the last of the B-52s was built back in 1962, which, of course, leaves its mark on the state of the fleet. Strictly speaking, the end of the Cold War could have turned out to be the end of American strategic aviation in the usual sense of the term. If in 1989 the United States had more than 400 bombers, then in the foreseeable future they may turn out to be no more than 100. Recall that Americans often complain about the “problematic” B-1B, indicating a relatively low level of combat readiness (although plans to equip the B-1 hypersonic weapons may affect the decommissioning of these machines). In recent years, they also spoke about the cancellation of the few B-2 “invisibles”: they are too expensive.
All this may mean that amid difficulties with the development of the new B-21, the B-52 veteran may become not just the main, but the only American strategic bomber: now, let us recall, the Americans have 76 such machines out of 744 built over the years . By the way, the United States is not alone in this, so to speak. The main Russian strategic bomber, Tu-95, like the B-52, made its first flight in 1952. The Tu-160 is newer, but there are only 16 of them in service, and it is far from the fact that this number will increase significantly in the next ten years.
No heart attack and paralysis
In general, the B-52 has already been upgraded to a level that allows it both tactically and strategically to meet the requirements of the 158st century, which can not be said about some other machines of this type. One of the most notable improvements is the ability to use the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, which makes the aircraft a true “hunter" for ground targets. The fuel-efficient satellite-guided JDAM bombs also contribute to this. Well, the role of the “long arm” (at least at the tactical level) is played by the new AGM-12 JASSM missile - their aircraft can take up to XNUMX pieces.
But even this is not enough, at least for the plane to be able to overcome the desired milestone of 100 years. Recall that this is how many Americans want to operate the machines: though not “yet”, but from the moment they were put into operation. The new version of the aircraft may be called the B-52J. “So far, this is just a sketch, potential future effort,” said Colonel Lance Reynolds, Program Manager for B-1 and B-52 Life Cycle Management, earlier.
Power point. The most important improvement is the engines. In fact, it is around them that the whole "round dance" takes place. Recall that the B-52H has eight extremely successful Pratt & Whitney TF33-P / 103 turbojet engines for their time - the same ones that were installed in the 60s. They provide cruising speed and combat radius on par with newer vehicles of this type. On the other hand, the use of eight engines within one platform today can hardly be called a modern solution, and the engines themselves are morally outdated.
Not surprisingly, back in 1996, a project was launched to re-equip the B-52 with four Rolls Royce RB211 534E-4 engines. This initiative was never implemented, but this is far from the end stories... On May 19, 2020, the United States Air Force issued a request for proposals for a new competition. As it became known earlier, GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce will take part in the tender for the supply of 608 engines. GE can choose between the CF34 engine or the Passport engine (or both). P&W offers the PW800 and Rolls-Royce the F130.
Some important steps have already been taken. In September last year, it became known that the American division of the British Rolls-Royce performed the first tests of the F130 turbofan engine for the B-52. This engine was developed based on the BR725, which, in turn, is a variant of the Rolls-Royce BR700. “The F130 family of engines that we offer for upgrading the power plant is already a product mainly manufactured in the USA, and we are going to take the last step in ensuring its assembly and testing in the United States if the program goes further,” Tom said earlier Hartmann, senior vice president of customer service at Rolls-Royce.
The F130 engine has a thrust comparable to TF33: it is noteworthy that, despite the initial plans to reduce the number of engines, the option of their direct replacement (at least until recently) remained more preferable. At the same time, the range of the aircraft should still increase by about 20-40%: now, recall, the combat radius of the aircraft is 7 kilometers, which is also quite enough to carry out the bulk of combat missions.
Armament and avionics. There is even less certainty if we talk about other aspects of modernization, but it is obvious that half-measures will not suit the US Air Force. Recall that the pilots of the B-52 perform tasks, guided by the scatter of dials on the dashboard: in front of them, like many years ago, there are only two small multifunction displays that do not meet the requirements of their time. Despite the fact that various pilots of the US Air Force have long and insistently demand modern "glass cockpits", which would include large displays on which basic information would be displayed.
They also criticize the outdated B-52 ejection system (two out of five pilots are thrown down in the event of an accident), and in addition, the placement of the aiming container under the right wing is not entirely successful, which reduces the visibility for the operator. Most likely, the new version of the “strategist” will be deprived of all these difficulties.
The updated version, of course, will be able to use new weapons. “The upgraded B-52 will receive a new cruise nuclear missile. The development contract is still valued at $ 250 million. At the Pentagon, the new missile is called a fundamentally new weapon system and argue that these new nuclear missiles will have an accuracy of 3–5 m and a flight range of at least 3–3,5 thousand km. “, - said in 2019 the head of the Bureau of military-political analysis, Alexander Mikhailov.
By the way, last year we also saw the potentially most dangerous weapon B-52 - a hypersonic missile ARRW or AGM-183A: then the model of this product was suspended under the wing of an aircraft. AGM-183A is a solid fuel aeroballistic missile with a warhead, the role of which is played by a detachable hypersonic warhead with a Tactical Boost Glide rocket engine. According to unofficial data, the speed of the block can reach 20 Machs.
There is almost no doubt that the missile will be brought to a combat ready state: too much time and effort has been invested in it. Only one important question remains: how many units can a single modernized Stratofortress carry? Of course, we will not be able to answer it now, but, as it became known recently, the B-1B will be able to take up to 31 ARRW. Probably, the B-52 will be able to carry the same number of missiles or slightly less.