The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) said that it is undertaking a demonstration to equip B-52H bombers with advanced communications.

““The AgilePod TENTaCLE [Tactical Edge Network Targeting in a Contested Long-Range Environment] program started as an OSD Rapid Prototyping Program, which allows us to quickly provide these needs to our bombers without the years-long timelines required for a permanent modification to the aircraft,” Nate Dawn, chief of AFGSC’s strategic plans and programs modernization, integration, and technology transition branch, said in a May 11 AFGSC release.

Dallas-based Jacobs Solution, Inc.‘s [J] aerospace sector built the B-52H’s Agile-26 pod that the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Barksdale AFB, La., flew for the first time on Feb. 22, AFGSC said.

The squadron “will continue with additional multiple ground and flight tests to the pod, ensuring operational capability and integration,” the command said.

The pod and TENTaCLE, built by San Diego’s Fuse Integration, Inc., are to enable farther, more secure communications for the bomber.

AFGSC said that its aim is “to accelerate and integrate disruptive technologies onto the B-52, B-1, and possibly other patrol-class aircraft.”

To accomplish its goal, the command said that it is demonstrating “a multi-function pod that could integrate advanced communications capabilities for the B-52 across all domains and enhance data transfer, weapon employment, and provide rapid solutions to emerging threats.”

Air Force Maj. Brent Drabek, a B-52 pilot with the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron, said in the AFGSC statement that the Agile Pod-26 and TENTaCLE are a “game changer allowing us to rapidly develop, test, and field new technologies on a warfighter-relevant timeline.”

The service is undertaking a series of B-52H upgrades. In September 2021 service awarded Rolls-Royce a contract worth potentially $2.6 billion through fiscal 2038 for B-52H re-engining with the company’s F130 engine, based on Rolls-Royce’s commercial BR725 carried on Gulfstream [GD] G650 business jets (Defense Daily, Sept. 24, 2021).

Raytheon Technologies‘ [RTX] Pratt & Whitney built the B-52’s original TF33-PW-103 engines.

The Air Force is also undertaking a Radar Modernization Program (RMP) for the B-52. RMP includes a new, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar based on Raytheon’s APG-79; a new, wide-band radome by L3Harris Technologies [LHX] on the aircraft’s nose; two L3Harris 8 x 20 inch high definition displays for the radar navigator and the navigator; two new, hand controllers by California-based Mason Controls; and new display sensor system processors by L3Harris to interface between the radar and other B-52 systems.

The planned retirements of the Air Force B-1 and B-2 bombers in the next decade to neck down to the 76 B-52Hs and the new Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-21 Raider will put a premium on coordination of the B-52 re-engining effort and RMP.

The Air Force has said that the B-52’s APQ-166 terrain-following and mapping radar by Northrop Grumman is based on 1960s technology, last modified in the 1980s, with a high rate-of-failure during operations.