“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.
The AN/ALQ-161A Defensive Avionics System on the B-1B bomber is supposed to identify, acquire, and defeat enemy radars and missiles. It was to be a very sophisticated jamming system, with 360-degree receive and jamming coverage plus a Tail Warning Function (TWF) to check six. The Electronic Counter-Measures (ECM) system would sort threats by priority and react against them automatically, even recognizing when it might be dangerous to use ECM and limiting its jamming to specific directions for the minimum required time. The system had very serious technical problems during its development, however, resulting in 2 full-scale recovery programs, over $1 billion invested in fixes, and an acknowledgment that the ALQ-161 would never really meet its original performance specifications. The system was fielded in the mid-1980s in the Mod 0 hardware configuration, and several software modifications have improved system performance since then – most recently in the very successful B-1B Block C upgrades.
Of course, software and hardware are symbiotes. A series of recent contracts indicate that the AN/ALQ-161’s hardware may also be headed for some improvements:
DID Recon posts will be used on occasion in order to cover a slew of news via a rapid-fire set of bullet points. Since folks have asked, we use the picture of Sikorsky-Schweizer’s RU-38 dedicated reconnaissance aircraft (with its unique silencing features) solely as a thematic element.
“Area 51” in Nevada, USA has been the stuff of myth and legend. Known world-wide as the birthplace and testing ground of famous planes like the U-2 Dragon Lady, SR-71 Blackbird, F-117 Nighthawk, and other “black program” aircraft, it has also been the subject of wilder UFO rumours and speculation.
In the October 2006 issue of Popular Science, noted “black project” researcher Bill Sweetman pieces together “The Top-Secret Warplanes of Area 51.” It covers some of the projects he believes to be underway there, based on patent filings, budget holes, and unfilled niches in the USA’s arsenal. DID would caution readers that all of this is speculation; holes in the US arsenal could be real due to neglect or priorities, patent filings et. al. may well pertain to active programs and research related to the WALRUS, J-UCAS, HAA/ISIS and other less well-known but nonetheless public programs, etc. With that said, his article makes for interesting and entertaining reading. Sweetman’s most surprising conclusion? That the Mach 5-6 Aurora wave-rider aircraft (see extensive GlobalSecurity.org project & budget analysis) may be on again as a $9 billion program, possibly with global strike as well as reconnaissance capabilities.
The USA’s B-52 fleet began service in the 1950s, but the USA’s inability to build and sustain a modern bomber force that could replace it, coupled with a relatively low number of hours flown on sturdy airframes, has led to a long series of upgrades and modifications that could keep its B-52 fleet in service for over 80 years before all is said and done.
MUSTANG is part of those ongoing efforts. It is intended as a replacement for the B-52 weapons preload tester and ground weapons maintenance (GWM-9) testers, which are utilized in certifying the B-52H aircraft for conventional and nuclear weapons release. It will also replace the off-aircraft pylon test used to certify weapon pylons. When combined with the $150 million program to update B-52H armament and add the Universal Weapons Interface, the USAF’s B-52s will improve their readiness for a wider variety of missions.
Contracts issued under the MUSTANG program have included…
Boeing Co. in Wichita, KS received a $150 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, firm-fixed-price and cost reimbursable contract to expand the capabilities of its 1960s-era B-52 Stratofortress fleet. This contract covers new weapons integration on the bombers, as established by Air Force Program Management Directive 2220 98 PE 11113F for B-52 Program Support Management Plan. The Smart Weapons Integration Next Generation contract will cover a 12-year period, with an initial $1.6 million development demonstration contract that will modify the aircraft’s weapon delivery software and complete the integration of the Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD).
Aircraft modifications will be required to integrate each new weapon onto the B-52. Some subsequent contract modifications will support Air Force initiatives for spiral development of other weapons in this class, such as Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER), MALD Jammer, et. al. Others will support totally new weapons, such as Small Diameter Bomb and Boost Phase Interceptor. Work will be complete December 2020. The Headquarters Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, Tinker Air Force Base, OK issued the contract. (FA8107-06-C-0001)
UPDATE:Boeing has issued a release noting that these efforts will also include integration of PMA-201 group’s Universal Armament Interface – the next generation interface between the mission planning system, aircraft platform, and weapons. If successful, this will be a big step forward vs. the present approach of integrating each new weapon individually.
Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St Louis, MO received a $70 million cost-plus fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price contract. This indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity basic contract is for aircraft integration for the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapon system. The Air Force can issue delivery orders totaling up to the maximum amount indicated above. Solicitations began January 2006, negotiations were complete in May 2006, and work will be complete April 2011. The Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, FL issued the contract. (FA8681-06-D-0021).
The US Air Force JDAM Fact Sheet notes that: “JDAM is currently compatible with B-1B, B-2A, B-52H, F-15E, F-14A/B/D, F/A-18E/F, F-16C/D, F/A-22 and F/A-18C/D aircraft. Follow-on integration efforts are currently underway or planned to evaluate compatibility with the A-10, F-117, AV-8B, S-3, Joint Strike Fighter, and unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Here are some figures that make up a useful accompaniment to our recent article, “EDA to Launch New European Procurement Code on July 1, 2006.” According to data collected by the EU’s European Defence Agency, its 24 members (all EU states except Denmark) expect to spend a little under EUR 2.5 billion on defense R&D this year ($3.2 billion at current conversion), with only about one-tenth of the money going on collaborative projects in Europe. Total defense expenditure is estimated to be around EUR 180 billion ($230.16 billion at current conversion). “Collectively we are investing less than 1.5% of defense spending in the future of Europe’s defence technological base,” said EDA head Javier Solana. EDA release.
Finmeccanica subsidiary Alenia Aeronautica will transfer some production activities for the C-27J Spartan light tactical transport aircraft to the Czech company Aero Vodochody under a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA). The final contract is scheduled to be signed by the end of May 2006, and is based on a business plan that anticipates the supply of 350 center wing boxes (where the wings attach to the body) with an estimated value of more than $200 million. Aero Vodochody’s participation will include responsibility for the equipment installed and final tests, promotion in export markets, production, production process improvement and possible modifications as required by customers around the world, and a possible role as a single-source manufacturer of the structure.
The Boeing Company has received a 9-year, $180 million contract to upgrade the AN/APQ-164 fire control radar on the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of 67 B-1B long-range bomber aircraft under a Reliability and Maintainability Improvement Program (RMIP). Most of the RMIP kit will come from subcontractor Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems in Baltimore, MD. It comprises a new radar transmitter/receiver, a radar processor computer and a translated [DID: from its original programming language], rehosted software package.