By Marina Malenic

The Air Force last week awarded a $468 million contract for low-rate initial production of the B-2 radar modernization program (RMP).

The contract will provide advanced radar components for the B-2 bomber fleet at Whiteman AFB, Mo. Northrop Grumman [NOC] is the B-2 RMP prime contractor, while Raytheon [RTN], Lockheed Martin [LMT] and BAE Systems provide components.

Following a five-year development effort, Northrop Grumman will now upgrade the B-2’s radar antenna to an active electronically scanned array (AESA) and shift it to a new frequency.

The award follows “successful initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) flight tests that were recently completed at Edwards AFB, Calif.,” according to an Air Force press statement.

“IOT&E was completed in early December,” Northrop Grumman RMP manager John Buzby told Defense Daily in a recent interview. “We’ve had some preliminary insight on what the findings were.

“We expect some minor things that we’ll be asked to go fix,” he added. “But nothing major that affects the hardware. So that was what enabled production to go forward.”

The report is expected to be released approximately 90 days after the testing end date.

Buzby said he expects a full-rate production decision “not later than May.”

The aircraft has been in the Air Force fleet for almost 20 years, and this is its first modernization. The entire fleet is expected to be equipped by 2013, company officials have said in the past. In a separate upgrade, the bomber will also get 64 laser-guided Small Diameter Bombs for use against moving targets, Northrop Grumman officials have said (Defense Daily, Oct. 7, 2008).

The $1.2 billion RMP was delayed about a year because of technical problems with the new antenna (Defense Daily, Nov. 28, 2007).

The Air Force is spending about $30 million on each bomber to upgrade their “dish” type APQ-181 radar systems to the new AESA radar. The new system consists of thousands of tiny radars that can be aimed independently.

Further, the RMP will move the radar from a band where the B-2 is a secondary user to a frequency where it is a primary user. The original frequency was widely used for satellite communication.

Raytheon is supplying the new APQ-181 AESA (Defense Daily, Nov. 28, 2007).

Initial operational capability with six aircraft retrofitted is scheduled for 2010, according to the Air Force.