Sunday, September 21, 2008

B-2 Is An Old Spirit/ Needs Upgrading USAF says

Stealth bomber is due for upgrade
Its computers, other electronics 2 decades old
By Bruce Rolfsen - Staff writer Air Force tTmes

Posted : Sunday Sep 21, 2008 9:03:01 EDT
The iPod lying on your desk is higher tech than the stealth B-2 Spirit bomber.

At least that’s the case when you’re talking electronics.

Upgrading the stealth bomber’s two-decade-old flight computers, cockpit displays, radar and communications gear is part of the ambitious improvement efforts for the bomber being undertaken by the Air Force and B-2 builder Northrop Grumman.

“We’ve been flying this plane for almost 20 years,” said Dave Mazur, vice president of long-range strike at Northrop. “We’ve never had a [computer] processor upgrade. The iPod you carry around has more processing power than a computer onboard a B-2.”

Still, the bomber’s first upgrade is arriving soon. A new digital “active electronically scanned array” radar is well into the flight testing phase on a B-2 used only for evaluation and is installed on the first of 20 operational Spirits scheduled for modifications, Mazur said.

By the end of 2010, the radar should be on six bombers, and by the end of 2013, approved for initial operating capability and all Spirits.

The new radar is needed, in part, because the Federal Communications Commission sold the X-band radio frequency used by the B-2’s old radar to a commercial user, Mazur said Sept. 16 at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference. Security concerns prevented him from naming the firm or frequency.

The cost of the radar project is about $1.15 billion.

As the radar project ends, work begins on communications, computer and cockpit display upgrades.

Added to the B-2 will be computer processing units, disc drives and fiber-optics cables. In the cockpit, nine flat-panel screens able to handle digital signals will replace tube-based display screens.

The electronics will be connected to a pair of new extreme high-frequency satellite dishes that link the B-2 via satellite to commanders and aircraft anywhere in the world. Installing the 3-foot-diameter dishes will require cutting open the top of the B-2’s center fuselage and fabricating mounting positions for the two 300-pound dishes. Fielding the satellite dishes is expected in 2013 and beyond.

In a parallel project, the B-2 will be outfitted to carry up to 64 laser-guided Small Diameter Bomb IIs, enabling the jet to strike moving targets.

To improve flight-line maintenance of the airframe, Northrop is using a new coating for the B-2 fuselage, called the “advanced topcoat system.” The coating is expected to shorten time maintainers spend preserving the airplane’s stealthiness after they open access panels.

The difficulty of maintaining the B-2’s stealth coating is a factor leading to the bomber’s low mission-capable rate of 48.7 percent in 2007, the lowest of any Air Force fighter or bomber, Air Force officials have said. Improvements to the stealth skin helped improve the rate in recent years from a low of 30.6 percent in 2005.

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