EB-52 Initiative on the Table
The Air Combat Command has proposed fitting the venerable B-52 bomber with Spear pods to create a support-jamming variant of the aircraft, dubbed the EB-52.
The US Air Force (USAF) Air Combat Command (ACC) has delivered a proposal to the Air Staff aimed at converting twelve B-52 Stratofortresses into support-jamming aircraft, dubbed the EB-52.
Following Operation Allied Force, the US military came to realize that it needed additional support-jamming capabilities, as EA-6B Prowlers were determined to be well overtasked, according to ACC officials. In addition, with the retirement of the EF-111, the USAF has been without a support-jamming aircraft of its own. Furthermore, a long-term successor to the EA-6B is at least ten years away (see “SEAD: Operation Allied Force and Beyond,” JED, January 2000; and “Analysis of Potential Prowler Successors Officially Underway,” JED, March 2000). The ACC initiative calls for the integration of a jamming pod aboard the venerable bomber to augment the EA-6B fleet — operated jointly by the USAF, Navy and Marine Corps — as well as to provide the USAF with its own support-jamming capability.
Looking only at existing aircraft in order to expedite introduction to the fleet of a support jammer, the ACC selected the B-52 as the platform for this proposal due to the aircraft’s “global reach and global power,” according to Lt Col Bob Simmons, chief of the B-52 weapon-system team. Furthermore, the B-52 “certainly has room,” he said, to accommodate additional equipment.
The ACC also chose an existing jamming pod for fit to the B-52: the lowband Spear pod, produced by Sanders, A Lockheed Martin Company (Nashua, NH). The Spear pod, already fitted aboard USAF EC-130 Compass Call aircraft, possesses internal antennas and amplifiers, while the systems exciters reside within the platform. The pod itself would replace the B-52’s existing external fuel tanks. Sufficient power for these pods is available onboard the B-52, according to the two ACC officials. Moreover, the pod’s size requirements for fit aboard the Compass Call aircraft do not apply to the significantly larger B-52. In fact, the pod could even be an extra six ft. long, and weight, Lt Col Simmons told JED, would not even be a consideration.
As for integration, Lt Col Simmons explained that when the ACC briefed the B-52 manufacturer, Boeing (Seattle, WA), on the proposal, company officials “laughed,” reportedly saying that such work would “not even be a strain.” The pods would also be integrated with the systems to be fitted aboard the B-52 under the Situational Awareness Defensive Improvement (SADI) and Avionics Modernization Improvement (AMI) programs (for more on SADI, see “Contractors Selected for B-52H SADI Program,” JED, November 1999), when these become available.
Under the proposal, however, the SADI/AMI systems would not be available for the first three B-52, which would be modified within the first three years of the plan. Even these aircraft, however, would meet the threshold requirements, according to Maj Bob Schwarze, advanced programs/EW officer at the ACC. As currently outlined, the ACC plans to begin the project in FY02. Following this start date, the ACC would convert three B-52s into EB-52s within the first three years of the program, and jamming pods would be fitted aboard another nine SADI-outfitted B-52s over the course of the first five years in order to reach the total of twelve EB-52s the ACC desires.
The initiative, currently unfunded, is under review by the Air Staff, but the ACC hopes to receive the estimated $334 million needed to carry out these modifications over a five-year period, beginning in FY02. In addition, the ACC would like to get about $4.5 million in funding for an FY01-02 engineering-and- manufacturing-development study in order to reduce potential risks. Electromagnetic-interference (EMI) considerations, for instance, await further study (although the ACC officials told JED that some EMI data was available from previous testing of the pod fitted to Compass Call aircraft). Operational considerations also must be addressed, including the consequences of additional strain on EB-52 crews, who already fly long bombing missions and would then be expected to loiter in or near the threat zone for another 8-15 hrs to engage in its new support-jamming role. — B. Rivers