$28.1M for B-52 Avionics Midlife Improvement Program
Lockheed Martin Corp. in Owego, NY received a $28.1 million firm-fixed price contract modification for the B-52 Avionics Midlife Improvement (AMI) Program. That’s a somewhat jaw-dropping term, given that the very last B-52 Stratofortress produced was delivered to the USAF in October 1962 – but the USAF presently intends to upgrade the BUFFs and keep them in service until at least 2030. Work on this contract will be complete by July 2008. The Headquarters Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base, OK issued the contract (FA8107-04-C-0010/P00007).
This AFFTC article describes the $260 million AMI program, and also explains some of the looming maintenance and supply problems facing the US B-52 fleet as a result of its age. See also this Military Aerospace Technology article. DID has described the larger problem of aging aircraft in the US military before, and also noted steps being taken to keep the similarly ancient and harder-used P-3 Orion fleet in the air.
DID note: The Edwards AF article covering the B-52 AI program is no longer online. Key excerpt reproduced below:
bq.. “The AMI program is specifically designed to upgrade the B-52H offensive avionics system and includes replacing the Inertial Navigation System, the Avionics Control Unit, the Data Transfer System and all associated hardware and software.
“It is the biggest improvement to the B-52 in 12-15 years,” said Maj. Ed Bellem, B-52 flight commander and AMI project pilot. “AMI is a critical modification; an essential upgrade needed to keep the B-52 airborne.
“Processors equivalent to the Commodore 64 are being removed and replaced with Pentium-level II processing capabilities,” Bellem added. “This improvement will ensure the airplane knows where it is at all times and can accurately deliver bombs on target.”
As the main hub for all AMI flight testing, Edwards dedicates approximately 200 people to the program. However, the B-52’s avionics upgrade stretches far beyond the boundaries of the base.
Boeing’s Wichita, Kan., division is responsible for the overall development of AMI. “They designed the hardware, wrote the software and installed the actual system,” said David Siu, B-52 flight test manager and AMI project manager.
Along with the Boeing Wichita team, members of Boeing High Desert, the 419th Flight Test Squadron, the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron Barksdale AFB, La., and the B-52 System Program Office Tinker AFB, Okla., are all key players in the AMI flight test series. “Everybody is hustling to keep this program on track,” said Siu.
The $8.5 million effort is on time and on cost, but schedule is the greatest risk. “The fleet starts living off spare parts in 2004,” said Bellem. “The current INS is becoming unsupportable.”
With the B-52 approaching its 50th anniversary, parts to repair, maintain and replace are just not available.
According to Siu, some of the manufacturers are going out of business, while others are trying to stay on the front end of technology, spending their money to support new platforms as opposed to old ones.
AMI is not only needed to prevent loss of capability due to vanishing vendors and equipment non-supportability, the improvement is also fundamental in assuring compatibility with new and future weapon systems.
“Without this avionics upgrade, there is no way weapons coming on line today or in the future, will be able to operate with the B-52 as their platform,” said Maj. Merrice Spencer, B-52 navigator and chief of avionics and weapons integration.
To date, AMI is conquering these main system shortcomings and performing as designed. “So far, the upgrade has been almost transparent to us,” Bellem said, “but there has been a significant improvement in reliability, which corresponds to mission-capable rate.” Mean time between failure increased from 600-800 hours to 6,000-9,000 hours.
Siu echoed that the performance of the system has been fantastic, but emphasized that without the continuous display of teamwork, the program would be lost.
“It’s been a great effort by all those involved – maintenance, instrumentation, engineering, the ops crew – everyone has pitched in,” said Siu. “The fly rate we have to maintain in order to execute all 80 sorties on time and meet the milestone date, is so aggressive that if we don’t have total cooperation, we won’t make the deadline.”