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The B-52 Bomber’s New Engines Cost a Fortune

B-52
Boeing B-52H static display with weapons, Barksdale AFB 2006.

Sticker shock has struck most anyone in recent weeks who has filled up their car’s gas tank or walked the aisles of a grocery store. Inflation continues to drive up prices for everything from daily items to durable goods. Simply put, most Americans are having to do more with less. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. military faces some sticker shock of its own.

According to Air Force Magazine, the cost of upgrades to the B-52 Stratofortress is running considerably higher than what some U.S. Air Force officials expected. The cost of re-engining, which is needed to keep the aging Cold War-era bombers in service through the 2050s, has reportedly increased by 50% – and it is not just because materials cost more.

Air Force acquisition executive Andrew P. Hunter acknowledged the B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program’s price hike in testimony to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.  

“We currently believe there is cost growth from our design work that we did originally through the middle-tier acquisition program to what we anticipate we’ll be looking at [in] Milestone B,” Hunter said, referring to the stage at which a project’s readiness to enter the engineering and manufacturing development phase is evaluated.

The Rolls-Royce of Engines

The Air Force announced last September that Rolls-Royce had been awarded a $2.6 billion Commercial Engine Replacement Program contract to keep the B-52s flying and in service. The new engines were seen as a significant upgrade from the current Pratt & Whitney-made TF33 engines, which date back to the early 1960s. The F130 is a tested and proven engine, and the platform has accumulated more than 27 million engine flight hours.

“The F130 is the perfect fit for the B-52 with proven reliability, superb life cycle cost, and low integration risk,” the engine’s manufacturer stated when it was awarded the contract. “A variant of the Rolls-Royce engine selected to power the iconic B-52 is already in service with the USAF around the world, powering both the C-37 and E-11 BACN aircraft.”

Rolls-Royce also announced it would use state-of-the-art digital engineering tools to determine how to incorporate the engines with the aging bombers. The company has already made digital maps of the massive bombers, thus allowing engineers to map models of the new engines and figure out how they would interact with other components and systems. Rolls-Royce also traded digital models with Boeing – the aircraft’s original maker – to help engineers fit the F130 precisely inside the B-52’s nacelles, and to determine where to place new components.

Not So Low Integration Costs

Hunter told the House Committee that cost increases have more to do with integrating the engines on the B-52s, which is a Boeing effort. It has less to do with the engines themselves, which will be built by Rolls-Royce.

“I want to emphasize that a lot of that engineering work is actually inside the airplane, on the support struts to which the engines attach, versus the engine itself, which is largely a commercial engine that already exists,” Hunter said, adding that the engine needs only “a modest number of modifications.”

Rolls-Royce North America told Air Force Magazine via a spokesperson that the company “has been collaborating closely with the Air Force and program integrator Boeing on the CERP program,” and noted that there have been “no changes in engine pricing since the contract was awarded.”

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Suciu is also a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Scot Bradley

    May 23, 2022 at 9:07 pm

    Every plane costs a fortune
    Maintenance and upgrades long term my dollar bets B52 is rated a best buy

  2. JJ

    May 24, 2022 at 12:03 am

    Why a headline that directly contradicts the story? The cost of the engines hasn’t changed. Indeed, the RR offer was the least expensive of the three major engine manufacturers.

  3. Joe wolf

    May 24, 2022 at 5:08 am

    Costs 50% more? Common today thanks to Biden.

    • Kevin Fisher

      May 24, 2022 at 9:13 am

      What does this have to do with Biden?

      • Doyle

        May 24, 2022 at 11:33 am

        He runs the Air Force…..do the math.

  4. sferrin

    May 24, 2022 at 8:02 am

    Compare it to the cost of fuel saved, reduced maintenance, spares, etc.

    (Of course we all know complaining about military spending gets clicks, am I right?)

  5. Rex F

    May 24, 2022 at 11:08 am

    Why they don’t pull out the blueprints and built 150 updated models is beyond me. What conflict has the B-52 been shown inadequate? This has got to be more economical than refitting.

  6. BenW

    May 24, 2022 at 11:20 am

    It’s Boeing who is the usual suspect here.

    • Doyle

      May 24, 2022 at 11:34 am

      or the Air Force screwed the pooch yet again, my proof is they’re paying the bill and not doing some over melodramatic posturing.

    • Rich

      May 25, 2022 at 10:54 am

      Agreed, Boeing seems to be the culprit here. I’ve read they’re carrying huge debt right now from the commercial airliner side of things. Because of this debt, their commercial airliner R&D is nowhere near where it needs to be and as such are falling way behind Airbus in the market. Wonder if this is a way for the federal government to indirectly subsidize Boeing to help keep them solvent. Nothing to back this up, but clearly something must be going on in the background for such a cost over run.

  7. TrustbutVerify

    May 24, 2022 at 12:09 pm

    So the engineering costs, which are based on hourly rates and can balloon vs the locked in costs of the engines (since we know how much those are as we already buy them), are going through the roof and Rolls Royce makes more money. Color me surprised.

  8. john A irvine

    May 24, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    So wait they didn’t include integration costs when pricing out the engine options. Dumb and yes that is a requirement before selection/determination part of life cycle cost.

  9. Term Limits

    May 25, 2022 at 4:52 pm

    I submit that it is remarkable they chose to upgrade the B-52 instead of repairing the B-1 fleet. The B-1 outperforms the B-52 in every aspect: Ceiling, bomb capacity, speed, engines, cockpit, etc.
    The internal stringers that run the length of the plane and certain components of the wing that is adjustable need to be repaired and in some cases replaced, but in all my reading these repairs are known and have been made to several B-1’s so the issues and costs are known.
    So I have yet to read why the B-52 upgrade was chosen over the superior B-1.

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