Next month is the scheduled preliminary design review (PDR) for Boeing‘s [BA] B-52 radar modernization program (RMP), which is to feature a new, wide-band radome by L3Harris [LHX] on the aircraft’s nose; two L3Harris 8 x 20 inch high definition displays for the radar navigator and the navigator; two new, hand controllers by California-based Mason Controls; new display sensor system processors by L3Harris to interface between the radar and other B-52 systems; and a new, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar based on Raytheon‘s [RTX] APG-79.
The U.S. Navy F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets by Boeing carry the APG-79.
The B-52’s Northrop Grumman [NOC] APQ-166 terrain-following and mapping radar “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.
RMP initial operational capability (IOC) on 11 B-52s is to come in 2026. RMP is to include increased system reliability and maintainability, improving mapping, synthetic aperture radar imagery, navigation accuracy in GPS-denied environments, a better weather map, and search and track for ground moving targets and aerial targets.
In June, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) annual acquisition report said that RMP officials projected March as the development start of the program–six months behind schedule (Defense Daily, Sept. 3). The GAO report said that “providing input into the prime contractor’s solicitation process took longer than expected and involved establishing a framework to vet program requirements.”
Scot Oathout, Boeing’s director of bomber programs, said in a telephone interview on Sept. 24 that Boeing is “on plan and on schedule for what the program has been conveyed and contracted for Boeing.”
“It is, in general, a very healthy program,” he said. “We’re tracking to the milestones and admitted dates to the Air Force that we are under. It really is clicking very well along.”
Mike Riggs, Boeing’s program manager for B-52 radar modernization, said on Sept. 24 that Boeing has completed all the subsystem PDRs for the new radome, the AESA radar, the displays, the display sensor system processors, the hand controllers, and the system software. Such subsystem PDRs occurred in July and August, per Boeing.
“We’re driving toward a system preliminary design review next month,” Riggs said.
GAO’s report in June said that program officials had expected a system-level PDR to occur in July.
Oathout said that Boeing and its suppliers have mostly kept on track during COVID-19 through virtual meetings. “We’ve had to adjust,” he said. “Some of the elements of this [RMP] program are sensitive and you can’t do over a phone, and we have to make that work with some travel.”
Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Weatherington, the commander of Eighth Air Force and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center, said recently that Air Force anticipates “about $377 million in savings on sustainment costs alone compared to the legacy system.”
The Air Force requested $168 million for RMP in fiscal 2021. Because of the GAO’s 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.
The Air Force’s Milestone B decision is expected in late February, and Boeing expects an RMP engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract next spring.
Riggs said that one RMP requirement is to allow the ready adoption of future hardware upgrades through software updates.
“The hardware today will support these growth capabilities, like automatic target correlation, target recognition, electronic attack, a radar common data link, and there are some other classified capabilities that it’s capable of that we’re not putting on today, but the hardware will be there to support that in the future,” he said.