Budget approved for Spirit active array but congressional cuts threaten to scupper B-1B's defensive system funding

Northrop Grumman and Raytheon expect to be awarded a contract by mid-October to begin developing an active array antenna for the B-2 Spirit bomber, rekindling interest in a Block 40 upgrade package. By contrast, Boeing is fighting to reverse congressional cuts in B-1B funding that threaten to derail the troubled Block Defensive System Upgrade Programme (DSUP).

Upgrading the B-2's Raytheon APQ-181 radar with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) will improve bombing accuracy and change its Ku-band frequency to avoid interference with commercial signals from 2007.

B-2 development was a black programme, and the radar frequency was not registered and was subsequently sold to civil users.

Funding has been approved for the all-new AESA, which would be fitted to the current radar, with component advanced development scheduled to start this year and system development and demonstration by the end of 2004. As part of this work, Northrop Grumman is hoping for more money in 2005 for a package of other incremental enhancements.

"We're working with the air force to aggregate the programme into a more efficient and coherent contract package," says Paul Marchisotto, Northrop Grumman B-2 programme manager. "We think we can save some money by doing that and add capability. There are defensive management system issues that need to be addressed which complement the radar."

Other areas that are targeted for improvement include updating computer software and processors, adding fibre-optic buses, an autothrottle and new cockpit displays. Already in the pipeline are the Link 16 datalink, integrating the 227kg (500lb) Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munition and the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 stand-off missile.

A Senate and House conference on the FY03 defence budget is scheduled this week and issues to be addressed include funding the planned B-1 Block F upgrade. The Senate has proposed a $40 million cut and the House $80 million, which Boeing B-1 programme manager Scott White says would effectively kill the DSUP. Last year the USAF announced plans to retire 33 of its 93 B-1s to save $1.4 billion, which was to pay for the DSUP.

The BAE Systems ALE-55 towed decoy at the heart of the DSUP has had deployment problems and is running late (Flight International, 27 August-2 September). A full capability test of the ALE-55 and the ALQ-214 jammer is scheduled for September next year.


Source: Flight International