PALMDALE, Calif. --- Northrop Grumman Corporation has begun work on a 62-month, $171 million system development and demonstration (SDD) contract for the first increment of a new extremely high frequency (EHF) satellite communications system for the U.S. Air Force's B-2 stealth bomber.
Under a planned three-increment upgrade program, the new EHF system will eventually allow the B-2 to send and receive battlefield information up to 100 times faster than its current ultra-high frequency (UHF) satellite communications system.
Northrop Grumman is the Air Force's prime contractor for the B-2, the flagship of the nation's arsenal of long-range strike aircraft.
"This SDD contract provides significant momentum for the work Northrop Grumman and its subcontractors are doing to increase the B-2's fighting effectiveness in the face of technological advances by our enemies," said Dave Mazur, vice president of Long Range Strike for Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector. "It will help ensure that the aircraft remains a well- integrated, high-value node in the Air Force's long range strike structure."
The authority to proceed with the SDD phase follows the Air Force's Milestone B decision in February authorizing Northrop Grumman to proceed with this first increment of the EHF upgrade program, added Mazur.
During Increment I, the Northrop Grumman-led team will replace the B-2's current flight management computers with a single, integrated processing unit developed by Lockheed Martin Systems Integration. The contract will also involve development of the fiber optic network that will support high speed data transfers to, from and within the aircraft; and delivery of a disk drive unit from Honeywell Defense and Space that will facilitate future transfer of EHF data onto and off of the B-2.
Increment II of the B-2 EHF program will give the aircraft the ability to send and receive information at EHF frequencies, while Increment III will fully integrate the new EHF communications capabilities into the aircraft's controls and displays.
According to Mark Rhoades, Northrop Grumman's EHF Satcom program manager, the EHF Satcom system will also allow the B-2 to connect easily to the U.S. Department of Defense's Global Information Grid, a worldwide network of information systems, processes and personnel involved in collecting, storing, managing and disseminating information on demand to warfighters, policy makers and military support personnel.
In particular, he notes, the EHF will make the B-2 compatible with both current and future secure military satellite communications networks. "The B- 2 will help ensure continuity of secure, worldwide military communications for allied commanders as the current network of Milstar satellites transitions to the new Advanced EHF satellite network," he said.
The B-2's new EHF Satcom system is the latest in a series of modernization programs that Northrop Grumman and its subcontractors have undertaken with the Air Force to ensure that the aircraft remains fully capable against evolving threats. Other recent or current B-2 modernization programs include:
- A "smart" bomb rack assembly that allows the aircraft to deliver 80 independently targeted, 500-lb. smart weapons, five times more than previously;
- Application of a specially formulated surface coating that has significantly reduced B-2 maintenance time and improved operational readiness;
- Installation of a line-of-sight tactical communications system that improves B-2 pilots' ability to share critical targeting and threat information and maintain real-time awareness of the battlespace; and
- Installation of an advanced electronically scanned array antenna designed to enable more advanced imaging capabilities in the future.
The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is one of the most survivable aircraft in the world. It remains the only long-range, large-payload aircraft that can penetrate deeply into protected airspace. In concert with the Air Force's air superiority fleet, which provides airspace control, and the Air Force's tanker fleet, which enables global mobility, the B-2 helps ensure an effective U.S. response to threats anywhere in the world. It can fly more than 6,000 nautical miles unrefueled and more than 10,000 nautical miles with just one aerial refueling, giving it the ability to reach any point on the globe within hours.
Northrop Grumman is a $30 billion global defense and technology company whose 122,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in information and services, electronics, aerospace and shipbuilding to government and commercial customers worldwide.