TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla., Jan. 9 (UPI) -- The "smart weapons" payload of U.S. Air Force B-52H bombers is being increased 50 percent under a USAF-Boeing program.
The service says under a $24.6 million agreement, Boeing will develop modifications to weapon launchers in the aircraft's bomb bay while Air Force personnel will update ground maintenance and mission planning software in support of the increased capacity.
"With this modification, we're converting the bomb bay from dropping just gravity-type bombs to releasing precision-guided weapons," said Jennifer Hogan of Boeing Communications.
Added Scot Oathout, the Boeing's B-52 program director: "When you combine that ability with the B-52's unlimited range with air refueling, you have an efficient and versatile weapons system that is valuable to warfighters on the ground."
Boeing will produce three prototype launchers for test and evaluation. Initial capability is expected in March 2016, and potential follow-on efforts could add more weapons and allow a mixed load of different types of weapons.
The upgrade will allow the bomber to carry two dozen 500-pound joint direct attack munitions or 20, 2,000-pound JDAMs. Joint air-to-surface standoff missiles will be added to the mix in later phases of the program.
The bomb bay renovation will enable the B-52 to carry all of its weapons internally, thus improving the aircraft's fuel efficiency.
The modernization work will use parts from existing Air Force rotary launchers repurposed for conventional missions as well as hardware and software already developed for the wing pylons.
The Air Force said its engineers at Tinker Air Force Base will modify the bomber's ground maintenance computer program to test out the additional integrated weapon interface unit being added in the bomb bay location on the B-52.