B-2 Bomber Set to Receive Massive Upgrade

B-2 Bomber Set to Receive Massive Upgrade

The Air Force’s B-2 Spirit is receiving a technological upgrade to allow the service’s bat-winged, nuclear capable bomber to fly through 2058.

Air Force officials have started planning the modernization overhaul to include digital nuclear weapons and a new receiver that allows the bomber to receive messages in the event of a nuclear detonation, said Eric Single, chief of the Global Strike division for Air Force acquisition.

Northrop Grumman, the lead defense contractor on the B-2, owns a contract with a $9.9 billion ceiling to complete maintenance and modernization on the fleet of 20 stealth bombers. The fleet upgrade will also include new computer processors, avionics, radar warning receivers and communications gear.


The B-2, which costs about $2.2 billion per plane, can reach altitudes of 50,000-feet and carry 40,000-pounds of payload. First produced in 1989, the stealth bomber was engineered to deliver weapons behind enemy lines and evade Soviet air defenses.

The Air Force had expected to field a fleet of over 130 B-2s, but failures by Northrop Grumman and the Air Force to keep it under budget along with the end of the Cold War led the Pentagon to cut the fleet to 21.

The Air Force will add a Common Very Low Frequency Receiver to improve communication in the event of a nuclear detonation, or what is called a high altitude electro-magnetic pulse environment.

The connection with the new receiver uses Very Low/ Low Frequency, or VLF/LF, waveform. It is secure and beyond line of sight, however it will only transmit data and it is receive only, Single said. This means an air crew could receive targeting instructions from the president, but not be able to transmit information, Single added.

Single explained that there are only two waveforms that would be survivable in this kind of scenario – one of them is EHF which would rely upon the AEHF satellite constellation and the other is VLF, he explained. Adding VLF waveform technology to the B-2 is expected to cost $160 million, Single said.

The new receiver will be added onto the B-2’s existing communications infrastructure which includes UHF-based satellite connectivity and something called the high-performance waveform, which comes from an on-board radio called the PRC 117.

“The B-2 has a large suite of communications systems on board that enable you to do line of sight and beyond line of sight voice and data. You have always had UHF connectivity which means you have always had a beyond line of sight data link,” Single said.

UHF connectivity, which is able to send and receive voice and data beyond line of sight, is recoverable in the event of a nuclear detonation but could be substantially degraded, he explained.

The B-2 is also being engineered with a new flight management control processor designed to expand and modernize the on-board computers and enable the addition of new software.

“We’re re-hosting the flight management control processors, the brains of the airplane, onto a much more capable integrated processing unit. We’re lying in some new fiber optic cable as opposed to the mix bus cable we are using right now. The B-2’s computers from the 80s are getting maxed out and overloaded with data,” Single said.

The new processor increases the performance of the avionics and on-board computer systems by about 1,000-times, he added. The overall flight management control processor effort, slated to field by 2015 and 2016, is expected to cost $542 million.

“This is a Cold War machine with 1980’s computers. The Cold War was great for aerospace but the computers are still stuck in the 80s. It is amazing the level of performance you can get by modernizing those systems,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis, Teal Group, a Virginia-based consultancy.

The comprehensive B-2 upgrades also include efforts to outfit the attack aircraft with next generation digital nuclear weapons such as the B-61 Mod 12 with a tail kit and Long Range Stand-Off weapon or, LRSO, an air-launched, guided nuclear cruise missile, Single said.

The B-61 Mod 12 is an ongoing modernization program which seeks to integrate the B-61 Mods 3, 4, 7 and 10 into a single variant with a guided tail kit. The B-61 Mod 12 is being engineered to rely on an inertial measurement unit for navigation, Single said.

In addition to the LRSO, B83 and B-61 Mod 12, the B-2 will also carry the B-61 Mod 11, a nuclear weapon designed with penetration capabilities, Single explained.

The LRSO will replace the Air Launched Cruise Missile, or ALCM, which right now is only carried by the B-52 bomber, Single said.

Alongside its nuclear arsenal, the B-2 will carry a wide range of conventional weapons to include precision-guided 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, 5,000-pound JDAMs, Joint Standoff Weapons, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and GBU 28 5,000-pound bunker buster weapons, among others.

The B-2 can also carry a 30,000-pound conventional bomb known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, Single added.

The upgrades are also improving something called the Defensive Management System, or DMS, a radar warning receiver which helps detect and report threat information.

The $2.2 billion effort, which will replace some of the processors in the DMS system, is slated to be finishing up for delivery by 2021, Single said.

The upgraded DMS is designed to enable the B-2 to have more success against modern, high-tech air defenses, Single explained.

“Advances in integrated air defenses have made it more difficult for anybody to operate in more contested areas. As you know being stealthy or low-observable gives you a lot of advantages as it shrinks the detection ranges of all these systems and creates holes you can use. What the DMS system does is it gives air crews real-time data of where threats are,” he added.

The DMS technology is able to detect emissions coming from enemy air defenses and help display their location, allowing the air crew to avoid threatening air defenses and change course as needed.

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Hopefully the LRSO will have a stealthy airframe and a conventional variant.

yeah, not much use to have the B2 deliver it’s load just for said to be destroyed by SAMs on their independent flight.

I’m not against these upgrades (you never know who we’ll fight), but I can’t help thinking that this new super upgraded B-2 will just continued to be used to fly a small amount of ordnance half a world away to be dropped on the Taliban or some similarly backwards group that has no air defense at all.

Is it difficult to contemplate a scenario where the US would engage an adversary with sophisticated air defenses, say Russia, China, North Korea, Iran or Syria?

There is also the philosophy that nuclear weapon systems have served their purpose if they are never needed in that role (i.e., they have fulfilled their deterrence role).

$10B/20 Planes — $500M per plan — sounds like a bargain — oh wait we aren’t getting new planes?????

This is smart spending and im glad to see the Spirit have some upgrades.

Little confused though the new long range bomber program is supposed to replace the B-2 . But now AF brass wants to keep the B-2 in service til the 2050s. Maybe the new bomber program may dies due to cuts soon?

Stealth Aircraft were used to cripple the Iraqi air defense system in both Iraq 1 and Iraq 2. These are the planes required that allow the other non-stealth aircraft such as the A-10 to do the CAS mission.

$500 million per jet…

Depends on how long they are doing the maintenance for since it is a contract to upgrade and maintain the aircraft and has a not to exceed limit of $9.9 billion maximum. So the upgrade is part of a larger, multi-year contract. Since aircraft are typically a lot more expensive to maintain than to purchase (for instance Boeing offered Malaysia a 10 year lease on 10 Super Hornets for the ridiculously low price of $3 Billion) $500 million each may be relatively (for the B-2) cheap.

think that’s expensive, just wait til they start ‘upgrading” all of the first generation pigs (aka F-35) which are basically empty shells

When I read the title of the article, I just assumed they were going to modify the B-2s to take over the mission of the A-10s, since the Pentagon wants so badly to eliminate the A-10s.

How come they’re not doing the engines too? Surely it couldn’t hurt to have more powerful, way more efficient fans keeping these guys going without tankers for longer. Bet it’d make them nicer to fly too.

The LRS-B (new bomber) was never meant to replace the B-2; it’s designed to replace the B-1B and eventually the B-52.

They can already strike any location on the planet and fly for 40+ hours; I don’t think upgrading the engines would be something you could easily justify.

It is a shame we did not put more of these in our inventory. If we are to keep the aircraft we need to keep it updated, the cost is immaterial as is just required in order to have it in our arsenal. Even though we are not using it at the present time but we never know what will happen next in a world that is waiting to explode.

500M per plane and still no AMRAAM capability… The F-22s and F-35s lack the range to escort the B-2s to their targets. Spending so much on a plane that cannot defend itself at all against enemy fighters is insane.

when are they going to put a bed in the plane for 30+ hr flights? Sure is embarrassing to see pilots carrying chase lounges into a multi billion dollar plane.

It’s still subsonic.

It seems like it should be relatively easy to retro fit a few AMRAAM’s into the weapons bay; without losing much if any capability.

Then what are they waiting for? The B-2 should have been armed with AMRAAMs 20 years ago.

It’s amazing that everyone is wondering whether the F-35 would survive against enemy fighters and no one seems to be concerned with the fact that the super expensive, slow and unmaneuvrable B-2 can’t shoot anything to defend itself.

The B-2s should have been upgraded minimally with AMRAAMs and a couple other weapons maybe and all the rest of the funds should have gone to the LRS-B. Continuing to spend a fortune to upgrade such a small fleet makes absolutely no sense, especially where they can’t find money to ramp up the F-35 and possibly at least keep the A-10Cs. tsss…

The Australian F111s had self defence missiles — possibly Sidewinders

Let’s not forget what the bomber’s original purpose was. Its not meant to be found. Why would you put amraams on this? It probably could just jam everything in the sky with a stealth decoy and nothing could find it.

This POS aircraft cost the taxpayers 24 billion dollars each and nobody complained. that It is subsobnic and cant fly in rainstorms with out the special paint coming off in sheets. There are only 21 of them flying oops one crashed so only 20 of them flying subsonic. What a waste of tax dollars and these B-2 should be put into a large saltmine for storage and see if they are ever needed Boondoggle is the corecct term for the B-2 Spirit

“when are they going to put a bed in the plane for 30+ hr flights?”… Convair B-36 Peacemaker, in production in 1946, had six bunks and a dining galley, routinely performed missions in the range of 30–40 hours unrefueled, and at least one variant had extra fuel tanks to extend that to 50+ hours of endurance.

Don’t forget Canada!

The article says they cost 2.2 billion each not 24, nice try though. . The biggest waste of tax dollars was the gov’t cutting the buy from 132 to 20 then complaining how much each one cost.. The billions spent on R and D then needed to be spread over 20 planes instead of 132 and drove the unit price wayyyyyy up. For you guys getting sticker shock at 500 million per upgrade.….that’s exactly what the Clinton administration spent to upgrade one B-2 from a test aircraft to an operational aircraft.…bringing the fleet to 21. Also, in 1995, Northrup Grumman offered to build 20 more B-2s for a fixed contract of $566 million each. Had they bought 132, I’m quite sure the B-52 and possibly the B-1 would be retired with associated savings. As for supersonic capability, unless you can supercruise like the F-22, the fuel consumption at mach+ is huge.

Check more data sources for the actual cost of each B-2 and you will find out it is 24 billion each. This fact is well hidden and the entire project was a boondoggle like the C-5A project that all of the reenforcemt stringers were removed to save weight and the hatch door opend up and the Viet Nam orphans inside were killed. The C-5A or B never could pass the same carrying capacity of the Boeing 707 and the Congressmen from Atlanta was the only reason the C-5 was built down there. All of the structural stringers had to be reinstalled and the C-5B is the result. The Boeing 707 is a superior design and everybody agrees.

2.2 billion per aircrqaft is the origianal cost. This 9.9 billion for 20 aircrafft left is a big budget item. We could buy 100 F/A 18 Aircraft for the price of one B-2 and they can get to targets at supersonic speed. The moisture defective B-2 has been a AF/ DOD boondoggle from day one.

The 707? I think you mean the 747– which can’t handle outside loads like the C5

They will upgrade the B-2 engines right after the B-52 engines are upgraded and reduced to 4 from 8 to keep them flying.

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