The B-2 program seeks to improve mission planning and communications
The Wright-Patterson AFB (WPAFB), Ohio B-2 program seeks safe flight mission planning and communications upgrades for the 20 stealth bombers in the U.S. Air Force’s fleet.
Last month, the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center (AFLCMC) hosted a virtual bomber industry day to discuss the programs of the Boeing [BA] B-52 and B-1 bombers and Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-2 stealth bomber.
The Air Force’s 20 B-2s are scheduled to remain in service until at least 2030, when the Northrop Grumman [NOC] The B-21 Raider stealth bomber begins to deploy.
According to an industry day question and answer sheet, real-time cyber protection for the 20 B-2s “would come down to mission planning and communications upgrades that look for secure solutions to be able to receive in real-time, on-board, active in-flight communications and mission planning updates for the B-2. “
“Communications changes are the responsibility of the WPAFB Advanced Programs Directorate and mission planning is the responsibility of the Tinker AFB Air Vehicle and Systems Management (AVSM) Directorate,” according to the question and answer sheet. . “B-2 strives to ensure that anything related to COMM [communications], especially in-flight updates, benefit from cyber protection. Cyber is constantly evolving and we are looking for new advanced solutions to counter the ever evolving cyber threats, so any detection of cyber, AI [artificial intelligence] algorithms, are welcome.
A Bomber Industry Day briefing by Air Force Col. Cory Brown, the manager of the B-2 program, said the program is executing “the most aggressive sustainment and modernization strategy in the world. the history of the B-2 “and that program” provides the strongest mission capable tariffs for the low density and high demand (LD / HD) fleet due to the full press on signature and socket changes Support Low Observation (LOSSM), Low Observation Maintenance and Supply Chain.
“The B-2 must remain viable, durable and affordable to ensure that the United States maintains its long-range and penetrating bombardment capabilities until the B-21 is deployed,” according to one of Brown’s slides. .
In a report last November on mission capability rates for US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted the sustainment challenges of the B-2. In 2019, the B-2’s mission capability rate was 60.47%. According to Brown’s presentation for Bomber Industry Day, the B-2 MC rate for fiscal 2021 was “on track.”
The AFLCMC had not responded at press time on September 29 to a question about the B-2’s current MC and Full Mission Capability (FMC) rates.
“According to [B-2] program office officials, due to the low number of aircraft in the B-2 fleet, there is less demand for suppliers to build parts, resulting in decreased parts availability, ”according to the report from GAO. “This shortage of parts regularly leads to cannibalization, that is to say the taking of a part from an aircraft and its use on another, aircraft in storage. While this process solves an immediate need, it is also ineffective. The B-2 program office worked with the Air Force Supply Chain Management Wing to resolve this issue. Supply chain improvement efforts include redesigning obsolete hardware to ensure aging parts are available and serviceable for the future. “
Brown’s briefing highlighted the challenges for sustaining the B-2s, including the dynamics of the aging small fleet; unavailability of parts; increased rates of Impaired Mission Capability (MICAPS) and cannibalization pending parts; and unobservable challenges.
The briefing also suggested that the program study solutions such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing.
Last September, the AFLCMC said the B-2 program office was undertaking a next-generation zonal radar program to provide handheld devices to maintenance managers this year so they can improve their assessment. of “the low observable (LO) nature of the materials on the aircraft, which is vital to ensuring the aircraft’s stealth capabilities.”
“The program office also led a project to redesign a panel on the nose of the B-2 which improved the LO signature of the panel and saved the government over $ 40 million,” he said. ‘AFLCMC. Additionally, the B-2 program “updates aircraft monitors that allow pilots to plan missions,” according to the AFLCMC. “The RFP was issued to Northrop Grumman on August 31, and the goal is to modernize the fleet by 2026 at the latest.”
The question-and-answer sheet for Bomber Industry Day last month noted the difficulty companies may face in seeking approval from Northrop Grumman for their involvement in sustaining B-2.
“We understand that it is difficult to find work with the incumbent contractor and we understand these challenges,” according to the question and answer sheet. “It’s okay to send the team a quick note / warning that you are planning to meet with the incumbent contractor. When it comes to things that are going to affect the aircraft’s Operational Flight Profile (OFP), there is simply no way around it. You need to engage with the existing contractor to see how you could be a subcontractor to support this relationship. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should completely exclude the government from this conversation. We’ve been messaging the incumbent for some time now about the changing environment and how he has run programs in B-2 in the past. “
“They have to adapt to be flexible, adaptable, affordable and efficient for the remaining life cycle of the B-2,” the question-and-answer sheet said. “Senior management agrees with this, and changes have been made. While not perfect, it’s reasonable to expect any incumbent entrepreneur to seek out and be willing to listen to and take advantage of third-party industry support for sustaining the B-2.