Air Force Completes 8-Year B-1 Bomber Battle Station Upgrade

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B-1B functional check flight pilot evaluates critical aircraft systems.
B-1B functional check flight pilot Maj. Michael Griffin, with the 10th Flight Test Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., evaluates critical aircraft systems, such as upgraded navigation procedures, radar systems and aircraft terrain, Dec. 15, 2015. (U.S. Air Force/Kelly White)

The Air Force just wound up a major upgrade on its B-1B Lancer fleet that took eight years to complete.

The service announced that it finished the Integrated Battle Station, or IBS, modification earlier this month on 60 of the 62 long-range bombers in its inventory. Two aircraft are routinely reserved for testing operations.

To keep the Lancer viable in the future battlespace, the Air Force initiated IBS, likely the largest and most complicated modification the bomber will see in the near term -- in 2012. The B-1 fleet is expected to be fully retired by 2036.

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Roughly 120 maintainers working in shifts executed 1,050,000 hours of planned work at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex at Tinker Air Force Base to give "the flight deck a whole new look," according to a service news release.

"This upgrade drastically improves aircrew situational awareness with color displays, and enhanced navigation and communication systems are projected to significantly enhance B-1B mission readiness," Lt. Col. James Couch, 10th Flight Test Squadron commander, said in the release.

"All aircraft outfitted with the Integrated Battle Station modification enhancements provide the four members of the aircraft with much greater 'battlefield' awareness of surrounding threats, whether those threats are air-to-air or ground-to-air, and provides a much faster capability to execute both defensive and offensive maneuvers needed in any conflict," Rodney Shepard, 567th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron director, added in the release.

In 2017, the upgrade was more than half done, with 33 planes converted to the new system.

The modifications targeted three developmental programs for the bomber: the central integrated test system, a fully integrated data link, and the vertical situation display upgrade, according to officials who spoke with Military.com at the time.

The central integrated test system, or CITS, works as a diagnostic and recording system to give crew more information in flight, as well as diagnostic information for maintainers on the ground, Master Sgt. Brian Hudson, a B-1 avionics manager at Air Force Global Strike Command, explained during an interview in 2017.

The plane is already outfitted with the Joint Range Extension Applications Protocol, known as JREAP, which extends tactical data link communications over long-distance networks. But the Fully Integrated Data Link, or FIDL, gives "the addition of Link 16, so really what FIDL [does] is to add Link 16 and integrate with beyond-line-of-site JREAP, and merge those two together and push that information onto the displays inside a cockpit," added Maj. Jeremy Stover, B-1 program element monitor and instructor weapons systems officer, in 2017.

Link 16 supports digital exchange of imagery and data in near-real time with aircraft, ships and some ground vehicles.

The total program cost for the IBS upgrade is estimated at $1.1 billion, officials said.

"Big thanks to the team at Tinker for doing a remarkable job retooling the B-1 and getting it back in the fight," Gen. Tim Ray, the AFGSC commander, said in the release following the completion of the program. "The work the B-1 and our Airmen are doing is a great example of how we're making a huge impact on Dynamic Force Employment to support the National Defense Strategy. These modifications have revitalized the B-1 for the high-end fight, allowing our precision strike force to remain strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable."

During the Air Force Association's virtual Air, Space and Cyber conference earlier this month, Ray said the readiness of the bomber fleet is improving, and its recovery and maintenance are well ahead of schedule, thanks to concentrated resources dedicated to bringing the workhorse airframe out of its previous abysmal state.

"[The Lancer is] probably six or seven months ahead of where we thought it would be," he said Sept. 16.

"On any given day, I probably can fly well over 20 of the B-1s," Ray said, referencing the fleet's mission-capable rate, or the ability to fly at a moment's notice to conduct operations.

Within the last year, the airframe has endured frequent inspections and time compliance technical orders, or TCTOs, which often mandate modifications, comprehensive equipment inspections or installation of new equipment.

The additional maintenance was necessary after the service overcommitted its only supersonic heavy payload bomber to operations in the Middle East over the last decade; the repeated deployments caused the aircraft to deteriorate more quickly than expected, Ray said last year.

The Air Force wants to downsize its Lancer fleet by 17 aircraft. In its 2021 fiscal budget request, it asked lawmakers to divest bombers that need repeated structural work, which will cost the service more in upkeep than modernization efforts, officials have said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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