WASHINGTON, August 22 (RIA Novosti) – The B-52 bomber, one of the most durable and iconic weapons in the US arsenal, is being upgraded with new high-tech equipment that planners say they hope will keep at least some of the fleet in the air for decades to come, the Los Angeles Times reported this week.
Currently, the B-52 – which accounts for nearly half of the bombers in the US Air Force fleet – is equipped with onboard computers about as powerful as a 1980s-era personal computer. Aircrews must upload bombing mission information before a flight and this cannot be changed afterward; some B-52s even use vacuum tube technology, the paper reported.
The $11.9 billion upgrade will see engineers and technicians at Boeing equip the “Stratofortress” with a new communications system that will enable aircrews to communicate using satellite links, to alter mission plans, re-target weapons during flight and interact better with ground forces and other aircraft, according to the article.
"It's like taking your grandmother's old rotary phone and giving her the latest greatest smartphone," Col. John Johnson, chief of the Air Force Global Strike Command's bomber requirements division told the LA Times in the article posted Monday.
The B-52 made its maiden flight in 1954 a year after the end of the Korean war. The most recent model was developed between 1960 and 1962 and has since undergone 30 modifications, but heavy usage in the Middle East over the last 11 years has led to concerns that the fleet of 76 aircraft needs a thoroughgoing overhaul, the paper reported.
However military strategists intend to keep the B-52 airborne and dropping bombs until at least 2040. The Air Force has spent billions modernizing the fleet over the years and Boeing, the maker of the aircraft, says it could still be in use when it is 100 years old, the article said.
(Attention: Modifies penultimate paragraph of story first published August 22 to make clear that the B-52 made its first flight one year after the conclusion of the Korean war and was not used during that conflict).