The Engineering Manufacturing and Development (EMD) phase for a cockpit display upgrade of the 20 Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-2 stealth bombers is to begin this fiscal year, as the U.S. Air Force looks to increase their mission readiness.

The Air Force bought 21 of the bombers but lost one in February 2008 after it crashed on the runway at Andersen AFB, Guam shortly after take-off.

The service said it released a request for proposals on Aug. 31 for B-2 Display Modernization (BDM) to help pilots plan missions.

The BDM program “is progressing as planned,” Air Force Col. Cory Brown, the B-2 system program manager, wrote Defense Daily in an email. “Our request for proposal released on time in August 2020, and the program is structured to meet the Air Force Global Strike Command fielding dates by 2026. The program’s cost estimate is under review, and therefore the program cost has not yet been finalized.”

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for BDM, while Collins Aerospace [RTN] is the subcontractor designing the displays.

BDM is a successor to the B-2 Defensive Management System Modernization (DMS-M) program, an effort begun with $250 million in fiscal 2013. DMS-M was to include a digital electronic support measures (ESM) subsystem, new ESM antennas, and modern display processing units to improve threat radar detection, identification, and avoidance capabilities.

DMS-M was expected to cost about $2.8 billion, and, as a result of delays in the program, the Air Force restructured it to include just the cockpit upgrade in the service’s fiscal 2021 budget request after spending about $1.9 billion on DMS-M.

“The current display sub-system lacks the processing power to provide necessary situational awareness to air crews in the projected dense threat environments of the future,” per the request. “Also, the legacy multi-function display units (MDUs) are not supportable due to obsolescence and repair issues. Without this program, display availability will severely impact aircraft availability.”

The Air Force said that “delays in the acquisition of B-2 DMS-M reduced return on investment.” Because of the delays, the service budget proposal moves funds from DMS-M in fiscal 2021 “to address reliability and sustainment of the B-2 cockpit display system until end-of-life, while developing new capabilities aligned to the [2018] National Defense Strategy.”

The Air Force requested $156 million for BDM in fiscal 2021.

“To maximize the efficiency of this modernization effort, the BDM team is leveraging lessons learned from the DMS-M program, as well as its display-head designs, per the acquisition strategy,” Brown wrote in his email.

“The fortunes of the B-2 have been bright until recently, no matter how its mission has changed,” per a Teal Group report last March. “But in early 2018 the Air Force announced that the fleet would be retired as soon as sufficient new [Northrop Grumman] B-21 Raider stealth bombers…were in-service. This would mean B-2 retirement around 2032, rather than the previous 2058. We shall see about this.”

Another Air Force official said last month that the mission availability of B-2 stealth bombers has been increasing (Defense Daily, Oct. 23).

“With the B-2 Spirit, we have a number of modernization efforts underway with the largest program, the replanned B-2 display modernization program, moving forward,” Air Force Brig. Gen. John Newberry, the program executive officer for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Bombers Directorate, said. “The aircraft is mission ready and has been hitting increasing trends in aircraft availability recently.”

The Air Force is also to provide a hand-held device this fiscal year to B-2 maintainers under the Next Gen Zonal Radar Program–a device that is to permit improved analysis of the aircraft’s low observable (LO) materials.

In addition, the Air Force said that the B-2 program office “led a project to redesign a panel on the nose of the B-2 that improved the panel’s LO signature and saved the government more than $40 million.”

The B-2 program office is also moving to field software to allow the rapid deployment of future weapons on the aircraft, such as the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb.

The office of Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord has been mum about how the House-passed 2021 spending bill for NNSA–a measure that provides the administration requested $816 million for the B61-12 life-extension program–would delay the delivery of B61-12 after Lord testified in September that such delays would start this fiscal year, if a final bill includes the House provisions (Defense Daily, Sept. 17).

The Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35A is to be certified to carry two B61-12s by the middle of the decade. The B-21 Raider is to carry B61-12 eventually, while the Boeing [BA] B-52H no longer carries nuclear gravity bombs.