Wednesday, October 20, 2021

British Rolls Royce Engines To Keep US Air Force’s B-52H Bombers Up And Running Till 2050

B-52 bombers are a key asset of the US Air Force. Now, the aircraft will receive a major upgrade that will extend their service life until 2050.  

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The USAF has reportedly awarded British company Rolls Royce a contract to replace the existing engines of the warplanes. Details about the deal were revealed in the September 24 edition of the Pentagon’s daily contracting notice.

Rolls-Royce Corp., Indianapolis, Indiana, has been awarded an estimated $500,870,458 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract with a six-year base period for B-52 Replacement Engines, with a potential total of $2,604,329,361 if all options are exercised. This contract provides for 608 commercial engines plus spare engines, associated support equipment and commercial engineering data, to include sustainment activities, to be used on the B-52H bomber fleet. The location of the performance is Indianapolis, Indiana, and work is expected to be completed by Sept. 23, 2038. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition in which one solicitation was posted and four offers were received. Fiscal 2021 research and development funds in the amount of $5,464,452 are being obligated at the time of the award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, is the contracting activity (FA8107-21-D-0001).

Rolls Royce Will Provide Long-Awaited New Jet Engines For The B-52 Bomber Fleet

The B-52H, also known as the Stratofortress or the Buff (big ugly fat fellow) is a long-range, large-payload multirole bomber. It functions as the USAF’s principal strategic nuclear and conventional weapons platform and also supports the US Navy in conducting anti-surface and submarine warfare missions.

The aircraft celebrated its 50th anniversary in April 2002 and is the longest-serving combat aircraft in the world. Out of the total 744 aircraft that were built, the service retired 18 B-52H aircraft leaving only 76 bombers with the USAF. These are stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

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The Engine Upgrade Program

The contract awarded to Rolls Royce by the Air Force is worth $500,870,458 for the next six years. However, this amount is expected to be increased to $2.6 billion if all options are exercised.

“This contract provides for 608 commercial engines plus spare engines, associated support equipment and commercial engineering data, to include sustainment activities, to be used on the B-52H bomber fleet”, the Pentagon said.

“The location of performance is Indianapolis, Indiana, and work is expected to be completed by Sept. 23, 2038”. 

B-52H
A B-52H from Barksdale AFB flying over Texas. (Wikipedia)

The number of engines specified in the announced, 608, is expected to be sufficient for replacing the existing eight Pratt and Whitney TF33 engines which are found fitted on each one of the 76 B-52H bombers currently in service with the Air Force.

To ensure cost efficiency, the Air Force had instructed all companies competing for the contract to prepare and submit proposals leveraging all of the four underwing engine pods, with each engine pod holding two TF33 engines. This is one of the major upgrades which is part of the US Air Force’s B-52H bomber upgrade program.

F-130 Turbofan Engine

Rolls Royce had proposed its F-130 turbofan engine for the USAF’s fleet of B-52H bombers. Even though the company is confident that its F-130 will not need to be replaced throughout the remaining service life of the B-52Hs, the Air Force wants to be equipped with spare engines in case any of the new engines require a replacement.

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Rolls Royce’s F-130 turbofan engines won against General Electric’s CF34-10 as well as Prat and Whitney’s PW800 in bagging this huge deal. Pratt and Whitney had been an important part of this contract even though the TF33 engines currently powering the B-52Hs have been out of production since 1985.

Since then, the company has continued to provide the required support for the TF33s found on the B-52Hs as well as on other aircraft in service with the Air Force.

F-130
Image: Rolls Royce

This was one of the most important reasons for the Air Force to move forward with this re-engine program which it started in 2017. The service had also planned to replace the engines of the B-52Hs earlier but had dropped the idea at that time.

“Once installed, the F130 will provide vastly greater fuel efficiency while increasing range and reducing tanker aircraft requirements”, Rolls Royce’s website said. This was another major reason for pushing the Air Force to move ahead with the re-engining program.

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