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B-52 CONECT: A reboot for the Digital Age

Munitions on display demonstrate the full capabilities of the B-52 Stratofortress, a bomber in the Air Force.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Horstman)

Munitions on display demonstrate the full capabilities of the B-52 Stratofortress, a bomber in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Horstman)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AFNS) -- One thing is certain: it's not your father's B-52.

The B-52 Stratofortress has been the Air Force's star long-range strategic heavy bomber and premier standoff weapon for more than 50 years. For generations, the B-52 has successfully executed missions all over the globe.

But in the 21st century, the pace of things has accelerated beyond the wildest dreams of the original designers who first put plans for the aircraft on the drawing board more than 60 years ago.

"Things change so quickly now, that you simply can't take 20- to 30-hour-old data into the fight with you any longer," said Alan Williams, the deputy program element monitor at Air Force Global Strike Command.

With digital display screens, computer network servers and real-time communication uplinks, the B-52 of the future will be far removed from the final batch that was delivered to Minot Air Force Base, N.D., in 1962.

The Combat Network Communications Technology, or CONECT, program will help thrust the B-52 into the modern era.

"Now the crews will be able to do final mission planning enroute," Williams said. "They will be able to get targeting updates; they will be able to get intelligence updates, all while they are en route so that they can get the most current data."

The beyond line of sight, or BLOS, communications ability introduced in the CONECT upgrades will allow for a central air operations center to pass along updated threat and targeting data to the aircraft for rapid machine-to-machine retargeting, rather than having the crew and mission be dependent solely upon information that was available at take-off.

"The aircraft will be much more effective and safer for the crew because of being able to receive those threat and target updates," Williams said, adding that CONECT will also allow the aircrew to receive last-minute updates so that they are able to strike the most current or necessary targets and do it rapidly because of the new machine-to-machine targeting capability.

CONECT also brings an unprecedented networking ability to the B-52.

"It provides us with a digital backbone so that we can pass data all the way around the aircraft," Williams said, explaining that with the upgrades, any data available to one crew member will now be available to every other member instantaneously via the new digital displays at each workstation.

These new upgrades will provide a foundation that may help guarantee the aircraft's viability through the remainder of its life span, which is currently projected to extend beyond 2040.

"Now when we add additional systems to the aircraft at some future date, we will be going from a digital component, across our new digital backbone, to another digital component elsewhere in the aircraft," Williams said. "In the future, it will make upgrades easier to do because we'll already have that digital infrastructure in the aircraft."

Williams summed up the CONECT upgrades by saying they would help convert the B-52 from an analog aircraft to a digital platform for today's warfighter.

"It is taking the B-52 from a rotary-dial phone to a smartphone," Williams said.

With the CONECT upgrades in place, the B-52 will be well-equipped to enter the Digital Age. In doing so, "the aircraft" will continue to be an adaptable powerhouse for decades to come.

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