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EB-52 Shot Down Again
by James Dunnigan
November 14, 2009

The U.S. Air Force has backed away from developing a new electronic warfare aircraft. Now it will rely on UAVs equipped with jammers, and electronic jamming pods on non-specialized (as jamming aircraft) warplanes. This was not the preferred approach. Last year, the air force revived a program to convert some of its B-52 heavy bombers into radar jamming aircraft. This would be done by equipping the bombers with jamming pods (that are similar in appearance to large bombs). The air force planned to buy 24 sets of pods, for a force of 34 B-52s. Each pair of pods would cost about $100 million (including development.) There would be some modification to the B-52s, so members of the crew could operate the jammers. But this effort was cancelled earlier this year, largely for the same reason a more ambitious EB-52 was canceled in 2005 (when projected cost soared from one billion to seven billion dollars, since work began in 2002.)

Back in the 1980s and 90s, a version of the F-111 carried out this electronic warfare  function, and did it very well. But the air force retired the EF-111 a decade ago, and agreed to split the cost, and share the use, of U.S. Navy jamming aircraft. The navy is now introducing the EA-18G jamming aircraft (based on the F-18) to replace the 40 year old EA-6B jamming aircraft.

The air force believes the navy won't buy enough EA-18Gs to meet navy and air force needs. So the air force wants to have something of their own to help out. The navy plans to buy about fifty EA-18Gs, for about $73 million each. It would have taken at least five years to get the EB-52 into service. The air force believes it will only take three years to get the new, less ambitious, program into service.


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