This research analyzed data gathered from Air Combat Command (ACC) headquarters, as well as data received from the B-52 Systems Program Office and the Electronic Systems Program Office. This data was used to determine if vanishing vendors and parts obsolescence are affecting the supportability of the defensive avionics system on the B-52 and in turn, affecting the mission capability (MC) rate of the platform. Information was also gathered from the 5th and 2d Bomb Wings to acquire user input on the impact of the problem.
The Air Force lacks the ability to maintain the ALQ-155 defensive avionics system on the B-52 beyond the short term because of lack of spare line replaceable unit (LRU) repair parts due to vanishing vendors, lack of repair capability, low system reliability, and increasing costs. This research will determine if the B-52 can remain a viable platform in a future conflict if the defensive avionics system is not recapitalized, and whether failure to upgrade the ALQ-155 system has had a negative effect on the mission capability of the B-52? It will then propose how Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) could address the problem to keep the B-52 a viable weapon system until its scheduled retirement date in 2040.
The Air Force did upgrade the B-52 aircraft with an Avionics Midlife Improvement program. This program focused on the offensive avionics of the aircraft to allow it to drop the latest guided weapons and improve the navigation system. The program does not address the defensive avionics systems of the aircraft, which are critical to survivability of the airframe in a hostile environment. These systems are plagued with high failure rates, which require a large stock of spare assets to keep the system functional. The spare assets are increasingly difficult to procure because of vanishing vendors. For purposes of this study, a vanishing vendor is defined as the inability to find a vendor to bid on a contract due to obsolete technology or high cost associated with item manufacturing. A recent example of the vanishing vendor problem making a system unsupportable on the B-52 is the ALR-20 system, which had a 6-gun cathode ray tube (CRT) similar to an old-fashioned television vacuum tube. It could no longer be repaired due to obsolete technology and high cost to sustain.
The relevance of legacy systems such as the B-52 on future operations is a concern because many current capabilities are dependent on these systems. The B-52 is an important component of the Air Force arsenal because of its unique ability to carry a tremendous payload of over 40 different types of munitions, and its ability to strike anywhere on the globe with aerial refueling on short notice. The aircraft is also an important nuclear strike asset in the Global Strike Command. Inability to sustain the spare parts required to maintain the ALQ-155 system will make the defensive avionics system inoperable.
According to the minimum essential subsystem listing for B-52 aircraft, a serviceable ALQ-155 system is crucial to a fully mission-capable aircraft for anything other than training missions. Lack of this system prevents the aircraft from countering low band radar threats, such as anything newer than SA-6 surface-to-air missiles. That means the aircraft could not penetrate a hostile electronic countermeasures (ECM) environment. This fact could be critical to its use in a future conflict.
This work was done by Major James Zick for the Air University.For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) below. AFIT-0004
This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
The Effect of Failing to Recapitalize the B-52H Defensive Avionics System on Future Operations
(reference AFIT-0004) is currently available for download from the TSP library.
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