PAUL LEWIS / WASHINGTON DC Decision a blow for BAE Systems and angers US Navy

The US Air Force has terminated the $850 million Boeing B-1B Defensive System Upgrade Programme (DSUP), raising questions about the supersonic strike aircraft's long-term viability as a penetration bomber. Some of the savings will go into developing an extended-range (ER) version of the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 JASSM cruise missile.

Cancellation of the programme is likely to draw fire from the US Congress, which was given assurances only last year that the $1.5 billion saving generated by the early retirement of 32 of the B-1Bs would be ploughed back into modernising the USAF's remaining 60 bombers. Cancellation of DSUP will save $600 million, part of which will be used to pay for the JASSM ER, which will feature a new turbofan and a range of at least 740km (400nm), and improving the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser.

"The money is not being reinvested, it's being taken out of the programme and put elsewhere," says a source. Congress has yet to be notified of the cancellation, but with voting on the next 2004 budget nine months away, it is unclear that Congressional add-on funding would come in time to resurrect the DSUP. Cuts to the fleet have eliminated two Air National Guard B-1 wings in Kansas and Georgia, weakening the bomber's political constituency.

The move represents a blow for BAE System's ALE-55 fibre optic towed decoy (FOTD), which along with the ITT ALQ-214 low-band techniques generator, forms the core of the Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures (IDECM) system. The USAF has been critical of the FOTD's flight-test performance on the B-1, although BAE claims issues have been addressed. The other main element of DSUP is the Lockheed Martin ALR-56M radar-warning receiver.

The DSUP, says the air force, "faced technical challenges that would have forced a significant programme restructure that would add 17 months and $175 million to the programme costs". The decision leaves the B-1B soldiering on with its original 25-year old AIL Systems ALQ-161 defensive system and the USAF trying to address the problem of its increasingly obsolete parts.

The US Navy is understood to be quietly fuming about the decision, as it was jointly developing IDECM for the Boeing F/A-18E/F. The navy has just begun operational evaluation of the ALQ-214 onboard element, to be followed by the ALE-55. Cancellation of the B-1B upgrade will drive up the cost IDECM production for the USN.

Source: Flight International