Upgrading Big Stealth: B-2 Improvements Continue
“USA’s B-2 Bombers Leading the Way in Contracting for Availability” described the new support arrangements for the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, which has historically had availability rates that hovered around 50%. Since there are only 21 of these aircraft in existence, that simple logistics change is likely to have major consequences for American power projection capabilities.
Alongside its new maintenance arrangements, the US government is also implementing aircraft upgrades to these rare and expensive systems…
June 11/07: Northrop Grumman Corporation announces that has begun work on a 62-month, $171 million system development and demonstration (SDD) contract for the first increment of a new extremely high frequency (EHF) satellite communications system for the U.S. Air Force’s B-2 stealth bomber.
Under the planned 3-increment upgrade program, the new EHF SATCOM system will eventually allow the B-2 to send and receive battlefield information up to 100 times faster than its current ultra-high frequency (UHF) system, and give it full connectivity to the USA’s Global Information Grid, including “both current and future secure military satellite communications networks.” The authority to proceed with the SDD phase follows the Air Force’s Milestone B decision in February 2007, authorizing Northrop Grumman to proceed with this first increment of the EHF upgrade program.
“During Increment I, the Northrop Grumman-led team will replace the B-2’s current flight management computers with a single, integrated processing unit developed by Lockheed Martin Systems Integration. The contract will also involve development of the fiber optic network that will support high speed data transfers to, from and within the aircraft; and delivery of a disk drive unit from Honeywell Defense and Space that will facilitate future transfer of EHF data onto and off of the B-2.
Increment II of the B-2 EHF program will give the aircraft the ability to send and receive information at EHF frequencies, while Increment III will fully integrate the new EHF communications capabilities into the aircraft’s controls and displays.”
Other recent or current B-2 modernization programs include:
- A smart bomb rack assembly that allows the aircraft to deliver 80 independently targeted, 500-pound smart weapons, as opposed to capacity for just 16 before the upgrade. Given the accuracy of JDAM-type weapons, an upgraded B-52 now has the capability to hit 80 different targets throughout its 6,000 nautical mile unrefueled range;
- Application of a specially formulated surface coating that has significantly reduced B-2 maintenance time and improved operational readiness;
- Installation of MIDS/Link 16 capabilities.
- Installation of an advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radar designed to provide more advanced ground and aerial radar imaging capabilities, and enable future growth in radar imaging and communications bandwidth. More important, it won’t use a segment of the spectrum that the USA government’s FCC accidentally sold at auction.