OKLAHOMA CITY, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- The smart weapons capacity of B-52 bombers is to be expanded by 50 percent under a new $24.6 million contract to Boeing from the U.S. Air Force.
Boeing said the expanded capacity will come through a modification to existing smart weapon launchers on the aircraft.
"When you combine that ability with the extremely long flying time of the B-52, you have an efficient and versatile weapon system that is very valuable to warfighters on the ground," said Scot Oathout, Boeing's B-52 program director. "This weapons capacity expansion joins the CONECT program, a comprehensive communication upgrade currently being installed on the aircraft, to give the warfighter even more flexibility."
Boeing said that under the contract it will produce three prototype launchers for test and evaluation. Initial capability is expected in March 2016, and potential follow-on efforts could add additional weapons and allow a mixed load of different types of weapons.
It's projected that following the first phase of the weapon capacity upgrade, the bomber will be able to carry 24 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions or 20 2,000-pound JDAMs internally.
Later phases will add the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile and its extended range variant.
The bomb bay upgrade will also enable the B-52 to carry weapons internally only, increasing fuel efficiency in flight.