Air Force Global Strike Command took delivery of a significantly enhanced Boeing B-52H Stratofortress in a ceremony here, April 25.
The B-52H spent the previous 10 months at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., being refitted with the Combat Network Communications Technology, or CONECT, upgrade. This modification is designed to greatly improve the aircraft’s utility in the modern battlespace and to keep the 50-year-old aircraft capable and lethal until at least 2040.
“The first CONECT B-52 we’re about to receive is a major leap forward in advancing the BUFF on the battlefield,” said Maj. Gen. Scott A. Vander Hamm, the 8th Air Force commander.
The CONECT upgrades provide the B-52H with digital display screens, computer network servers and real-time beyond line of sight communication links, allowing crews to stay connected to the world throughout their mission, officials said. A combined air and space operations center can now provide the aircraft with constant updated threat and targeting data, rather than the crew and mission being dependent solely upon information that was available at take-off.
“Over the past two decades we’ve seen rapid advancements in technology, and that has really changed way we operate on the battlefield, especially in the information environment,” Vander Hamm said. “What hasn’t changed is the need to advance our capabilities and integrate those technologies with information to provide our aircrew with the most up-to-date information and the ability to act on it.”
The machine-to-machine interfacing introduced by CONECT also allows for rapid re-tasking and retargeting while eliminating potential human error, giving the B-52H the capability of conduct digitally-aided close-support missions in coordination with tactical air control parties on the ground. This ability to make precise changes in an instant is critical in the quicksilver world of modern combat.
“It’s the integration of these and other CONECT aspects that are increasing the combat capability of this old, but very formidable, aircraft,” Vander Hamm said.
Another facet of CONECT is the addition of networking devices to the aircraft to act as a digital framework, allowing for easier incorporation of new technologies in the future, officials said.
“Now when we add additional systems to the aircraft at some future date, we will be going from a digital component, across our new digital backbone, to another digital component elsewhere in the aircraft,” said Alan Williams, the deputy program element monitor at AFGSC. “In the future, it will make upgrades easier to do because we’ll already have the digital infrastructure in the aircraft.”
Because CONECT requires making such extensive modifications to the aircraft, the upgrades can only be performed during Periodic Depot Maintenance, or PDM, at Tinker AFB. All aircraft are scheduled for PDM on four-year cycles.
According to officials, equipping a B-52H with CONECT requires nearly 7,000 man-hours to complete, or approximately nine months per aircraft. The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex at Tinker currently has the capacity to perform a maximum of 17 of these refits per year. All B-52H’s are scheduled to complete the upgrade by 2020.
“The B-52 is here to stay,” Vander Hamm said. “CONECT is keeping us current, relevant and credible in today’s and tomorrow’s fight.”