The B-52 bomber fleet is getting a new lease on life.
Rolls-Royce Corp. has been awarded a $500 million, six-year contract to provide commercial replacement engines for the B-52H Stratofortress, the U.S. Air Force announced.
The contract has the potential to go as high as $2.6 billion. It’s expected to extend the lifespan of this fleet of long-range heavy bombers that are currently powered by 1960s-era engines for another three decades.
The upgrades are expected to boost fuel efficiency and extend their range, while also reducing their emissions and maintenance costs.
“The B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program is the most important and comprehensive upgrade to the B-52 in over half a century,” said Maj. Gen. Jason Armagost, who serves as director of strategic plans, programs and requirements at Headquarters Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
“The B-52 is the workhorse of the nation’s bomber force and this modification will allow the B-52 to continue its critical conventional and standoff mission into the 2050s.”
According to the contract announcement, Rolls-Royce beat out three other bids to replace the B-52s’ TF33-PW-103 engines with 608 of its commercial F130 engines. Rolls-Royce will also provide:
- Spare engines
- Associated support equipment
- Commercial engineering data
The engines will be built at its Indianapolis plant, where the company says 150 new high-tech, high-skilled jobs will be created.
The first two modified B-52s are expected to undergo ground and flight testing upon delivery by the end of 2025, with the first lot of operational aircraft outfitted with the new engines delivered by the end of 2028, according to USAF. The entire B-52H fleet is expected to be modified by 2035.
Why They Need Replacements
The Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP) contract announcement comes as the fleet faces a sobering reality. The current TF33-PW-103 engines, which have powered the B-52 fleet since the 1960s, are not expected to be supportable past 2030, USAF said.
“The B-52 CERP is a complex upgrade that not only updates the aircraft with new engines, but updates the flight deck area, struts and nacelles,” Brig. Gen. John Newberry, Air Force bombers program executive officer, said in a statement.
Program executives are turning to technology to jump start integration.
“Our current virtual digital prototyping efforts are giving us an opportunity to integrate the engines and other changes to the B-52 before doing any physical modifications,” Newberry said. “This has allowed us to develop the most cost-efficient solution while reducing the time from concept to production.”
In total, Rolls-Royce said it plans to build 650 copies of the F130 engine, which is already in use powering C-37s and E-11 Battlefield Airborne Control Node (BACN) aircraft, the company said.
“The F130 is a proven, efficient, modern engine that is the perfect fit for the B-52,” said Tom Bell, chairman and CEO of Rolls-Royce North America, in a statement.