The Air Force said on Sept. 24 that it has finished a $1.27 billion Integrated Battle Station (IBS) upgrade for its fleet of Boeing [BA] B-1B bombers–a program that began in 2004 when the Air Force combined three separate cockpit modifications to save costs on hardware, software, and installation.
Boeing has been the IBS contractor since then after buying Rockwell International’s aircraft business.
The first two B-1Bs with Boeing-installed IBS were test planes delivered in 2012, while the first of the remaining 60 B-1Bs was delivered to Dyess AFB, Texas in January 2014 with IBS installed by Tinker AFB, Okla., technicians.
The three IBS upgrades were a fully-integrated data link (FIDL) with Link 16 and modern color displays in the aft cockpit, a vertical situation display upgrade (VSDU) with modern color displays of flight instrumentation to increase situational awareness, and a central integrated test station (CITS) upgrade with modern displays and new software to monitor the health of systems on the B-1.
The B-1 program was able to achieve “some commonality” by designing and installing hardware, including displays, that worked for all three modifications and by executing the software upgrades for all three upgrades as one package, said Bill Barnes, B-1 system program manager under Air Force Brig. Gen. John Newberry, the program executive officer for bombers at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.
Barnes said that the IBS development phase, which included flight testing and modification of the two test aircraft, cost $380 million, while the IBS production phase has cost $894 million–a total of $1.27 billion. A Defense Daily story from 2014 said that the Air Force estimated the total IBS program would cost $983 million (Defense Daily, Feb. 27, 2014).
At the time of the first production IBS back then, “we were just starting the modifications so we didn’t have full details on what the final kit costs would be, as we negotiated each of the kit buys and what the install costs would be as we continued making the installs,” Barnes said. “At the same time, over the years we bought all the spares necessary to support the fleet, and we also are just now taking those spares and moving them to Air Force supply systems support. Up until now, Boeing has provided interim contractor support so any parts that broke, Boeing has led the effort to repair those parts and get them back to the Air Force. We’re just now in the middle of pulling those parts into Air Force supply systems so that supply systems supports that cost. So the program has supported all the repairs on all of the aspects of IBS up until this point, and I’m not sure that cost was taken into account [in the $983 million estimate].”
While the 62 B-1Bs share common IBS hardware, the B-1 program has made “numerous software upgrades” for IBS “and will continue to do so over the life of the aircraft,” as software is the “heart and soul” of most aircraft warfighting capabilities now and the ability to adopt new weapons, Barnes said.
“In addition to new [IBS] technology for the warfighter…by understanding what work we can do concurrently, we were able to return the aircraft back to the warfighter sooner,” said Air Force Col. Greg Lowe, commander of the 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group at Tinker AFB, Okla., a group with 4,400 personnel that perform programmed depot maintenance on the B-1, B-52, E-3 AWACS, the E-6 Mercury nuclear command and control aircraft, and the KC-135 and KC-46 Pegasus tankers.
Rodney Shepherd, director of the 567th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, illustrated the complexity of the eight-year IBS installation effort, including 13 miles of rewiring per aircraft.
Air Force Lt. Col. James Couch, a B-1B weapon systems officer (WSO) and the commander of the 10th Flight Test Squadron at Tinker, called IBS a “fantastic upgrade.” The old CITS was “archaic” and required B-1 crew to type in aircraft health codes manually, while the CITS upgrade for IBS allows the crew to examine more than a dozen aircraft health codes simultaneously and has memory that obviates the need to type codes manually without referring to a CITS manual. In addition, FIDL gives “unprecedented communication” that the B-1 “never had” before IBS and integrates “the crew directly into the fight,” while VSDU color moving maps provide significantly enhanced situational awareness, Couch said.
The planned 17 B-1B retirements in fiscal 2021 are part of an Air Force effort to retire 100 legacy aircraft to help shift funds from sustainment to modernization. If Congress approves the retirements of the 17 B-1s, which the Air Force said would require tens of millions of dollars per aircraft in structural repairs to remain in service, the Air Force is to “roll that [repair] money back into supporting the remaining 45 aircraft,” Barnes said.