Boeing RB-52B Stratofortress


By any comparison you wish to make, the B-52 must be one of the great bombers of all time. Certainly when you consider the longevity of the aircraft and the number of occasions it has been used for combat sorties, the B-52 is way ahead of any other jet bomber and the aircraft still soldiers on, showing no sign of being ready for retirement.

Designed to replace the huge Convair B-36 strategic bomber, the prototype YB-52 first flew on 15 Apr 52. However, before the bomber was actually ordered, USAF HQ had come to the decision that SAC didn't actually need a long-range bomber and wanted all the B-52's built as reconnaissance aircraft. SAC on the other hand wanted the aircraft to act as a bomber and as a reconnaissance aircraft using a pod carried in the cavernous bomb bay. In Oct 51 USAF HQ decided that the new aircraft would be built as RB-52 reconnaissance aircraft, but as they would carry their reconnaissance equipment in the bomb bay pod, SAC's view had actually prevailed. Only 3 B-52A's were built and they acted as evaluation aircraft.

Recce capsule being winched into the bomb bay of an RB-52B

A total of 50 B-52B's were built, 23 were pure bomber aircraft, the other 27 were dual-capable RB-52B's and the first aircraft was delivered on 29 Jun 55 with the last arriving in Aug 56. For a reconnaissance sortie, a large two-man pressurised capsule was winched into the bomb bay - a process that usually took about 4 hours. In case of an emergency, the capsule was provided with two downward-firing ejector seats and it could be configured for ELINT or photographic duties. For an ELINT mission the pod carried an AN/APR-14 low-frequency radar receiver, two AN/APR-9 high-frequency radr receivers, four AN/APA-11A pulse analysers, three AN/ARR-88 panoramic receivers and an AN/ANQ-1A wire recorder. For a photographic sortie the capsule carried four K-38 cameras plus one T-11 or K-36 vertical camera - the pod was also capable of carrying three T-11 cartographic cameras.

The next version of the aircraft was the B-52C which first flew on 9 Mar 56. A total of 33 B-52C's were built and all the aircraft were compatible with the bomb-bay reconnaissance capsule, although the aircraft were never designated RB-52C's. Little, if any information has been released about the operations undertaken with the RB-52B's, but life cannot have been particularly comfortable for the two 'ravens' carried in the capsule - then again, if they had previously served on RB-47's, they would be fairly well accustomed to that form of transportation. The accommodation and working conditions on the RC-135 must have seemed palatial in comparison.

The idea of using a B-52 as the worlds largest airborne jamming platform emerged during Operation Allied Force over the former republic of Yugoslavia, when the Supreme Allied Commander, a micro manager of the highest order called General Wesley Clark, issued an urgent request for additional jamming aircraft to supplement the over-stretched EA-6B Prowler fleet. The plan involved a rapid fit of ALQ-99 pods to the B-52 and by the end of the hostilities the design was finalised and the modification of an aircraft was underway. The concept of an EB-52H never actually made it into service during the conflict and many believed a B-1B or an EF/A-18G 'Growler', which could actually accompany a strike package, would do the job as well, nevertheless the concept of an EB-52 was soon reconsidered.

Boeing B-52H

Since the premature retirement of the EF-111A Raven in 1998, the USAF has been forced to rely on the Grumman EA-6B Prowler for jamming support. Since 1998, and in particular following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the USA, the need for EW support aircraft has increased significantly, as US and coalition forces have been engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. The net result has been that the aging Prowlers have been in high demand and often simply have not been available.

Boeing B-52H

To address this shortfall in Jul 04 it was finally decided to re-equip 16 B-52H strategic bombers to enable them to act as stand-off jammers. The aircraft will be known as the EB-52H and will have their obsolescent AN/ALR-20A Electronic Countermeasures Receiver System and AN/ALR-46 Radar Warning Receiver replaced as part of a general $48 millions Situational Awareness Defensive Improvement (SADI) programme. Then the aircraft’s ECM system will be enhanced and their two underwing fuel tanks will be replaced with two 30ft ECM antenna pods. The aircraft’s electrical system will also be strengthened to enable it to cope with the additional demands of high power jamming and the EW pods will fully integrated into the aircrafts systems and managed by the current electronic navigator’s / EW position.

The system proposed for the B-52 was known as the Stand Off Jammer System (SOJS) and it was hoped that the first systems would be operational sometime between 2010-12. However, as so often happens with complex systems that are planned to meet a multitude of different goals, requirement creep began and as a consequence costs started a continual rise from $1 billion to $7 billion. Eventually the inevitable happened and in early 2006 the SOJS was cancelled completely.

However, the requirement for a powerful stand-off jammer remained and eventually in Oct 2007 the USAF started to seek preliminary approval for a new $3.1 billion stand-off jammer programme known as the Core Component Jammer (CCJ). This time, having learnt the lessons from the failure of the SOJS, the CCJ will will focus on low-frequency, early warning radar and communications systems, utilising long-range, phased-array, 40ft long jamming pods mounted on the wingtips of the B-52. Boeing and Northrop are favourites to win the contract and would use existing knowledge and technologies to keep costs down.

Hopefully the companies that win the contract for the CCJ will realise that this time the programme must succeed; and that they, along with the USAF, will need to keep the programme requirements in check and also a tight hand on the costs - if they don't there is every chance the CCJ will suffer the same fate as the SOJS. On 23 Jun 08 Boeing received a $15 million contract to complete aircraft intergeation studies for the new phased-array wingtip pod that will form the main element of the CCJ, as well as other advanced equipment. Provided the programme goes ahead as currently planned, 34 aircraft will be modified to carry the CCJ equipment, however, as the USAF plan to buy only 24 sets of equipment, this means that only a couple of dozen aircraft will be available at any one time.

It says something about the USAF’s lack of effective forward planning and the poor appreciation of the long-term need for effective EW, that they have had to resort to using a 43 years old aircraft for this vital task. Nevertheless, along with the many other roles it has undertaken in its long career, the EB-52 will become a very effective stand –off jammer, where it’s long endurance and range will enable it to provide much needed EW support and it will still retain the ability to launch cruise missiles or drop conventional weapons from their vast bomb bay. The EB-52H’s will be based at Barksdale and Minot AFBs and are planned to be operational from 2018.

Updated - Jul 2008