Military

The B-52 gets upgraded weapons bay

The B-52 gets upgraded weapons...
The new rotary weapons bay allows for a wider variety of munitions to be carried (Photo: Boeing)
The new rotary weapons bay allows for a wider variety of munitions to be carried (Photo: Boeing)
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The new rotary weapons bay allows for a wider variety of munitions to be carried (Photo: Boeing)
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The new rotary weapons bay allows for a wider variety of munitions to be carried (Photo: Boeing)
The new weapons bay means that weapons don't need to be mounted on the outside of the aircraft (Photo: USAF)
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The new weapons bay means that weapons don't need to be mounted on the outside of the aircraft (Photo: USAF)

For a plane that's now being flown by the original crews' grandchildren, the B-52 is still going strong. For its latest upgrade, Boeing has installed a new weapons bay launcher that will allow the venerable bomber to carry smart weapons inside and reduce fuel consumption.

When the B-52 entered service in the 1950s, launching its main weapons was very simple; it opened the bomb bay doors and the bombs slid out of their racks. Sixty years later, the B-52's conventional arsenal of "dumb" iron bombs has given way to a suite of laser-guided munitions, cruise missiles, and an assortment of stand-off and smart weapons. As a result, the bomb bay has become something like a cross between a revolver and a vending machine, with a rotating cradle that allows the pilot to select particular weapons and move them into launch position automatically.

The problem is that the older weapons launchers weren't one-size-fits-all, so GPS-guided smart weapons, for example, had to be carried on hard points on the wing, which greatly increased drag while reducing mission flexibility. Boeing is seeking to correct this with a new prototype launcher, which is has installed in a B-52 for testing.

The new weapons bay means that weapons don't need to be mounted on the outside of the aircraft (Photo: USAF)
The new weapons bay means that weapons don't need to be mounted on the outside of the aircraft (Photo: USAF)

According to Boeing, the new launcher will allow the bomber to carry the smart weapons inside the bomb bay, which means that 50 percent more of the weapons can be carried with greater flexibility. In addition, the company says that this allows the B-52 to fly with a "clean" wing. That is, with no weapons visible on the outside of the hull. This will result in a 15 percent fuel savings, which will increase mission range, and will provide the US Air Force with an intelligence advantage because hostile observers won't have any clue as to the plane's payload.

The first of the launchers was installed on December 17. Three prototypes have been delivered so far, and Boeing and the Air Force are conducting tests at Edwards Air Force Base, California until March. The current upgrade allows the B-52 to carry the Joint Strike Munition with later upgrades to include the Joint Air to Surface Stand-Off Missile and the Miniature Air-Launched Decoy.

"This upgrade allows us to provide better close air support for Army personnel on the ground and future increments improve our strategic attack capability, a cornerstone of the B-52," says Captain Ryan Hefron, B-52 pilot with the U.S. Air Force 419th Flight Test Squadron. "Being able to go and perform long-range strikes on night one of an operation and carrying an additional eight cruise missiles in the bay is huge."

The video below introduces the new rotary weapons bay upgrade.

Source: Boeing

3 comments
Bill Bennett
Makes me want to watch Dr. Strangelove.
StWils
And yet the Air Force still insists the A10 warthog is obsolete and cannot continue to be used. The F35's gatling gun has nowhere near a useful amount of ammunition and will not be ready for several years anyway. BTW, the Air Force talks about the B52 doing "Close Air support" but this is from 20 to 30 Thousand Feet up. An A10 does close air support with the pilot looking directly down at the intended target which produces far safer and more certain effects for the ground combatants. The Air Force really does not understand the term and is not especially interested in doing close air support until the Army talks about doing it. The B52 is an excellent aircraft but is not especially well suited to a ground role.
mksmith76g
We build billion dollar high tech aircraft and might get 20 years out of them, aka F-117 Stealth Fighter. Yet, the low tech, 60 plus year old, B-52 may stay in service into its 90's. Maybe, we should not be asking if these super advanced weapons systems are decades ahead of any foe and should be asking how many decades can a system stay in front line service.