The U.S. Air Force appears to be moving ahead with plans to finally replace the engines on its aging B-52H Stratofortresses on a one-for-one basis, which could give the iconic bombers extra time over the battlefield or additional overall range, all while cutting the costs to fly them per flight hour. Though the project could help the BUFFs remain relevant for decades to come, the service will still need to find the necessary funding and other resources as it struggles to keep other major modernization programs on track and deal with a worrisome shortage of pilots.
According to an announcement Air Force Materiel Command posted on FedBizOpps, the federal government’s main contracting website, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) B-1 and B-52 Bomber Division will host meets with industry representatives at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma on Dec. 12 and 13, 2017. The notice stresses that this “industry day” is presently just for market research purposes, but that there is something of a formal plan specifically to buy “commercial” replacement engines.
“The B-52 Re-engine program will replace current B-52 engines with new, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) engines for the entire 76-aircraft fleet,” associated contracting documents explains. The Air Force’s present overarching plan is to award two separate contracts for the engines and the modifications necessary to attach them to the bombers’ wings. There is nothing in the existing contracting language prohibiting a single company from securing both deals.
The service did not publicly release any firm performance or cost metrics along with the announcement, though contractors interested in the modification contract will have to supply a detailed cost assessment and potential technical risks in any proposal. However, in August 2017, Boeing released a promotional video outlying the benefits they felt the planes would get from a re-engine effort.
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