August 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 4 
Integrated Defense Systems

A net-centric B-1

‘Roving linebacker’ of U.S. Air Force gets new gear to stay in the game


B-1 LancerThe B-1 Lancer bomber has played a major role in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Boeing is helping ensure it will be able to serve effectively for decades to come, thanks to the recently started Network Centric Upgrades (NCU) program that includes adding new color displays, secure digital radios, a moving map and decision-aiding software.

The swing-wing bomber’s superior performance comes from range, speed and loiter capabilities, with a large payload of modern conventional weapons. Good structural design and relatively low flight hours on the airframes mean the B-1 is expected to last another 40 years. The U.S. Air Force contracted with Boeing for the NCU upgrades so B-1 crews can respond quickly in future conflicts to the vast amount of information about battlefield targets—and adapt to a role that has changed greatly from the B-1’s original mission.

The B-1, or “Bone” as known by its crewmembers, was designed in the 1970s to penetrate deep into hostile territory and deliver nuclear missiles.

In 1992, at the end of the Cold War, the Bone was modified to deliver the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition, the Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile and other conventional weapons. The Bone’s target set changed accordingly from large fixed targets to dispersed mobile targets.

B-1s have been dubbed the “roving linebacker” because their large payload of weapons and fuel lets them loiter a long time waiting for targets. Currently, when ground troops or intelligence assets detect a target, the target’s coordinates are communicated to the crew verbally by secure radio. The crew transcribes the coordinates, determines the proper route, altitude and other details and manually enters this information into the Bone’s computers.

With the Bone’s ability to carry up to 96 Small Diameter Bombs, manually retargeting 96 weapons in-flight against 96 targets would be overwhelming. To carry out that mission, the B-1 needs to connect to the Global Information Grid for digital targeting and decision aiding. The connection will provide graphical situational awareness and textual tasking (instructions) that will reduce the potential for error and free the crews to perform critical tasks.

Under the NCU contract with the Air Force, Boeing is developing a series of upgrades. Engineers currently are working on the Threat Situational Awareness System to add a display architecture and four new color displays in the front crew station. They have also begun the Fully Integrated Datalink (FIDL) Program that adds an over-the-horizon secure UHF data link and brings Link-16 tactical data to the crew. Link-16 is a secure, high capacity, jam-resistant communication data link for all U.S. military forces. FIDL also adds new color displays to the aft crew station.

These NCU programs will be fielded in the next five years, giving crews the tools to keep the B-1 valuable in future conflicts.

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