The projected development start of the B-52H Radar Modernization Program (RMP) has slipped six months from this month until March next year.
“The program plans to start development in March 2021, a delay of 6 months from our previous assessment,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in its Defense Acquisitions Annual Assessment in June. “According to program officials, providing input into the prime contractor’s solicitation process took longer than expected and involved establishing a framework to vet program requirements. Officials noted that the prime contractor was solely responsible for final supplier selection and will be responsible for ensuring supplier performance going forward.”
Last year, Boeing [BA], the maker of the venerable B-52 and the RMP prime contractor, picked Raytheon [RTX] to design and build an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, based on AESA technologies in Raytheon’s APG-79/APG-82 family, to replace the B-52’s APQ-166 terrain-following and mapping radars by Northrop Grumman [NOC] (Defense Daily, July 11, 2019).
RMP is “essential to replace the now unsupportable radar and dramatically improve performance and supportability,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Weatherington, the commander of Eighth Air Force and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center, said last week. “We anticipate about $377 million in savings on sustainment costs alone compared to the legacy system.”
The APQ-166 “is based on 1960s technology, last modified in the 1980s, with a 63 percent rate-of-failure during operations,” the Air Force said in its fiscal 2018 acquisition report, the most recent one the service has released. “This [RMP] radar upgrade will maintain platform viability through 2050. The program began in fiscal year 2017 and the acquisition strategy was approved in March 2018. Production is planned to begin in fiscal year 2024, with the planned delivery of 76 radars from 2025 through 2029.”
The 2024 production date is a year delay from what the Air Force said in its fiscal 2017 acquisition report.
The Air Force requested $168 million for RMP in fiscal 2021. Because of the projected six-month slip in Milestone B, the House Appropriations Committee recommended cutting that amount by $10.9 million in the committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 defense funding bill. RMP will replace the radar antenna array and up to 14 individual line replaceable units (LRUs) that comprise the radar system.
“Although the program has yet to identify critical technologies, program officials stated they plan to integrate technologies currently used on other aircraft,” per GAO’s report in June. “We have reported in the past that reusing existing technologies can reduce technical risk, but if the form, fit, or functionality of those technologies changes from one program to another, technology maturity may also change and should be reassessed. Program officials noted that the Air Force will perform an independent technology readiness assessment of potential critical technologies in preparation for the start of development. Program officials also plan to conduct a system-level preliminary design review [PDR] in July 2020, prior to development start in March 2021.”
Boeing said on Sept. 2 that the system-level PDR did not occur in July but is scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year. “In preparation for the RMP system-level preliminary design review, all Boeing major supplier sub-system preliminary design reviews were successfully conducted in July and August, despite COVID-19 challenges,” the company said.
In response to GAO, Boeing said on Sept. 2 that “several candidate critical technologies were identified at the system-level System Requirements Review in August, 2018.”
“Because all of the identified critical technologies are mature off-the-shelf technologies, none were identified as having any major technical risk,” per Boeing.
The program has expected an engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract next year.
Boeing’s pre-EMD award to Raytheon includes long-lead items for seven radars. Raytheon beat out Northrop Grumman to win Boeing’s favor for RMP. Northrop Grumman had pitched its AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) for the B-52 radar replacement program (Defense Daily, Feb. 26, 2019). That AESA radar is the Air Force choice to modernize its F-16 fighters.
David Rockwell, a senior military electronics analyst at the Teal Group, wrote in an email that the “new normal” for military radar programs involves just two companies, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, and “de facto non-competitive pricing for AESA upgrades.”
“The recent contract for the new B-52 radar fulfills this concept,” he wrote. In a July report, Teal Group forecasts Air Force spending of $1.7 billion for RMP over the next decade.
While the Air Force and other countries chose SABR, the competing Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) was developed as a modular AESA radar intended as a “drop-in” upgrade for F-16s and the Boeing F/A-18–a flexible upgrade requiring minimal aircraft modification and aircrew transition training.
“RACR leverages Raytheon’s current AESA radars for the F/A-18 Super Hornet (APG-79), F-15C (APG-63), F-15E (APG-82), and B-2 (APQ-181), and can reportedly be tailored to any fighter platform’s size, space, and radome requirements,” per Teal Group.
The latter said that the Raytheon APG-79(V)4 [RACR] will be the most affordable military radar–between $5 million and $7 million per unit–“at least until F-16 upgrades start to catch up.”
“The B-52 radar is certainly no longer planned (funded) as the ‘cheap, off-the-shelf’ SABR/RACR upgrade originally envisioned,” per the Teal Group report “But that envisioning was when funds were in short supply and both Raytheon and Northrop knew they would be competing and an off-the-shelf update would work just fine. Now, maybe 4x the funding for 120% the capability. This is the future….”