DAYTON, Ohio With a series of modernization efforts on the table for the Air Force’s aging B-52 bomber fleet, the service will decide over the next two years whether the upgrades merit a model change, officials said June 20.

Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, program executive officer for fighters and bombers at the Air Force’s Lifecycle Management Center at Air Force Materiel Command, told reporters that his directorate is working with Air Force Global Strike Command to assess whether the modification efforts in place are sufficient to consider changing the B-52H – which last rolled off the production line in 1962 – to a B-52J.

The Air Force’s B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber

“As we’re looking at such as large modernization program … we’re in conversations … to spin to a J model,” he said Thursday at AFMC’s annual Lifecycle Industry Days conference here.

David McCain, who serves as the B-52 development systems manager, said a decision will likely be made in about 18 months.

Chief among the Air Force’s modernization efforts for the B-52 is a re-engine competition that will replace over 600 engines across the fleet, with eight engines located in each of the 76 aircraft. Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney [UTX] and General Electric [GE] have all expressed interest in competing for the potentially lucrative contract, for which the request for proposals was released in March and a contract award is expected in fiscal year 2020 (Defense Daily, March 1).

The Air Force is also replacing the aircraft’s APQ-166 terrain-following and mapping radar, developed by Northrop Grumman, and upgrading the weapons bays to enable the B-52 to carry GPS-guided munitions. Other upgrades include an updated Link 16 line-of-sight tactical data link capability, new GPS interface units for on-board computers, and new data and voice communications capabilities.

The upgraded B-52s are also expected to carry future hypersonic weapons. The Air Force and Lockheed Martin [LMT] recently announced a successful test of components of the forthcoming AGA-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) aboard a B-52H that helped provide data collection for future tests (Defense Daily, June 17).