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Future-Proofing the B-52

A Flying Fortress: The B-52 at a Glance

  • Entered military service: 1955
  • Maximum unrefueled range: 8,800 miles
  • Payload capacity: 70,000 pounds
  • Maximum altitude: 50,000 feet

Soaring through the skies since the 1950s, the B-52 Stratofortress is a U.S. Air Force (USAF) workhorse and an enduring symbol of American military might. The eight-engine behemoth boasts unique capabilities unmatched by any other American warplane – which is why, after more than 70 years of service, it continues to play a vital role in our nation's defense and national security strategy. And thanks to a collaboration between L3Harris and the USAF, this iconic aircraft is poised to remain mission-ready against highly sophisticated, emerging threats for decades to come.

Under a 10-year, $947 million contract awarded in 2021, L3Harris is upgrading and enhancing the AN/ALQ-172 electronic warfare (EW) self-protection system, which protects the B-52 and aircrews from a wide range of electronic threats. Our current work builds on decades of experience providing critical technology as the Original Equipment Manufacturer of the AN/ALQ-172 systems for the B-52 fleet. And combined with other modernization efforts underway, our upgrades will extend the B-52's relevance and reliability through the 2050s.

"Our adversaries continue to evolve, fielding advanced, long-range threats that challenge our ability to operate in contested environments," says Robert "Trip" Raymond, Air Force Program Lead, EW Technology Development, L3Harris. "It is critical that we provide our B-52 aircrew with the tools they need to keep the B-52 relevant, lethal, and survivable as the backbone of the United States' strategic bomber force."

Mission to Modernize
Our modernization and sustainment effort—ALQ-172 Maintainability and Reliability System (MARS) – sets out to do just that by increasing mean time between failure due to its modular design while further improving system performance, maintainability and reliability. Thanks to an enhanced integrated radio frequency system, aircrews will be able to simultaneously counter multiple radar threats that interfere with aircraft operations. And by replacing analog systems for more cost-effective software solutions, the USAF will be able to reduce B-52 crew sizes from 5 to 4. That frees up resources for additional mission-critical activities.

Ultimately, the upgrades will further assist the USAF with their Global Strike Mission and strengthen the B-52's effectiveness in modern warfare while making future upgrades cheaper and easier.

"We're implementing affordable solutions that not only reduce costs but provide aircrews with more advanced protection against the most sophisticated radar-detected threats," says Jimmy Mercado, L3Harris Program Director. "This all adds up to a more modern, efficient and effective aircraft that's ready to dominate the future fight."

The USAF plans to conduct a test flight with the B-52's new EW capabilities in 2024.

Learn more about L3Harris' AN/ALQ-172 EW self-protection system.