|Arthur Dominic Villasanta |||Nov 01, 2016 09:58 AM EDT|
(Photo : USAF) B-2 and its bomb load.
A series of avionics upgrades and new weapons will keep the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber operational since 1997 in the front lines until 2058.
This will allow it to fly alongside the new Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider that should begin flying with the U.S. Air Force by the 2030s.
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There are some 20 operational B-2s, most of them at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri while two rotate out of Andersen Air Force Base in Guam as part of the military's rebalancing to Asia strategy intended to counter China's military buildup.The B-21 was referred to in some circles as the "China Bomber" because of its very long range.
The flying wing B-2 can loft up to 18,000 kg (40,000 lbs) of conventional and thermonuclear bombs. It can carry 80 500 lb (230 kg) Mk 82 JDAM GPS-guided bombs, or 16 2,400 lb (1,100 kg) B83 nuclear bombs.
What will distinguish the B-21 Raider from the B-2 is the former's enhanced stealthiness and its capability to loiter over the battlefield for extended periods of time, allowing it to hit multiple targets of opportunity with precision.
It's being designed to survive daylight raids in heavily defended enemy territory such as those inside an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone. The B-21 will carry a weapons load of up to 12,700 kg (28,000 lb).
The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 B-21s at a cost of $550 million each. The B-21 is described as a fifth-generation global precision attack platform that will give the U.S. networked sensor-shoot capability.
For the elder B-2 to fly in the heavily contested battlespace designed to be overcome by the B-21 means the former's avionics and electronics systems will have to be upgraded.
As a result, the B-2 fleet is undergoing a series of modernization upgrades to ensure the aircraft can remain at its ultimate effective capability for the next several decades.
A priority for upgrading is the B-2's Defensive Management System (DMS) that informs the two-man flight crew of the location of enemy air defenses. DMS is capable of automatically assessing the detection capabilities of identified threats and indicated targets.
It will be upgraded by 2021 to detect radar emissions from air defenses to allow changes to the auto-router's mission planning information while in-flight. The upgrade will also allow the DMS to receive new data quickly so as to plan a route that minimizes exposure to dangers.
The DMS upgrade will give crews better situational awareness so they can make sound decisions in the cockpit about where they need to fly the bomber.
The B-2 is also moving to an extremely high frequency satellite to better facilitate communications with command and control. The communications upgrade might make it possible for the crew to receive bombing instructions from the President in the event of a nuclear war.
The weapons upgrades will allow the B-2 to carry the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) weapon now in development and next-generation nuclear bombs like the B61-12.
LRSO will be developed to replace the aging AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). It will be capable of penetrating and surviving advanced Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS) from significant stand-off range to attack strategic targets in support of the Air Force's global attack capability and strategic deterrence function. The Air Force plans to start fielding LRSO by 2030.
Equally important, "LRSO will ensure the bomber force can continue to hold high-value targets at risk in an evolving threat environment, to include targets within an area-denial environment," said Gen. Robin Rand, Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command,
A life-extension program for the B61-12 nuclear bomb will see this "dumb nuclear bomb" transformed into a smart nuclear bomb whose accuracy should rival bombs equipped with Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) GPS guidance kits.
With the addition of a guided tail kit assembly, a smart B61 will have an accuracy, expressed in CEP (Circular Error Probability), of some 30 meters, which is far better than the CEP of 100 meters in its dumb bomb mode.
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