Satellite links

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE B-52 bomber aircraft crews are not far off from having an upgraded communication system that can send and receive information by satellite links, according to The Boeing Company officials.

The communications system upgrade will allow the crews to change mission plans and retarget weapons in flight and better interact with aircraft and ground forces, officials said.

Currently, mission information must be uploaded to a B-52 before a flight.

Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale AFB, La., are the only two B-52 bases in the nation.

In July, the first B-52 arrived at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., from Barksdale to receive the first Combat Network Communications Technology, also known as CONECT, according to Air Force Global Strike Command. The command is responsible for the nation’s force of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable bombers.

The upgrade is being done through the new $76 million CONECT contract that covers low-rate initial production of the first CONECT kits, along with spare parts and maintenance and service at Tinker AFB.

Boeing received the low-rate initial production contract this summer,” said Jennifer Hogan, with Boeing communications in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Other improvements will include a state-of-the-art computing network with workstations at each crew position and an integrated digital interphone with increased capacity. It will enable crew members to talk to one another on headsets with noise-canceling technology, Boeing officials said.

Scot Oathout, Boeing B-52 and Legacy Tanker Program manager in Oklahoma City, said the new communications sytem will bring the bomber into the digital age and give Boeing’s customers the infrastructure necessary for continued future improvements.

Oathout visited Minot AFB for the unveiling of a plaque for a B-52 model that the Minot region and other contributors, including Boeing, presented to the Minot base. The static display is located near the headquarters building for the 5th Bomb Wing, the unit that has the B-52s at Minot AFB.

When the B-52 bomber currently at Tinker AFB is tested and ready, then other B-52s will receive the new technology, expected to be in later 2014.

A weapons payload upgrade for the B-52 also is in the works.

The 1760 Internal Weapons Bay upgrade will allow the plane to house advanced precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions in its internal weapons bay, in addition to the JDAMs on exterior weapons pylons.