Spirit of Cooperation

USAF B-2A Spirit Strategic Bomber
The ability to receive new mission data while on a sortie forms an essential part of the retargeting posture of the USAF’s B-2A Spirit strategic bombers.

The USAF’s Boeing B-2A Spirit strategic bombers are getting communications enhancements which will help them obtain new mission information during their sorties.

On 9th August, the US Air Force revealed it had completed a successful demonstration of its new Integrated Airborne Mission Transfer (IAMT) system. The IAMT forms part of Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Collaborative Combat Communications (B2C2) Spiral-1 programme, according to a company press release.

B2C2 Spiral-1 takes the form of a software upgrade for the aircraft’s communications systems. The IAMT enables dynamic re-tasking of the aircraft while in flight. Mission data is transmitted directly into the bomber via the IAMT. The IAMT in turn is integrated onto the aircraft’s Multi Mission Domain (MMD) architecture. MMD, according to the company, is an open standards system. The architecture is used on the B-2A to allow it to be updated with new capabilities but without interfering with safety or flight-critical systems. MND will greatly ease and accelerate the introduction of new capabilities onto the aircraft.

Adaptable Communications Suite

The IAMT works with the aircraft’s Adaptable Communications Suite (ACS). The ACS has a corresponding ground station. Mission data is loaded into the ground-based ACS. The data are then sent to the aircraft and into the IAMT. Once in the IAMT aircrew can see new mission taskings or new data pertaining to their current sortie on their standard cockpit displays.

Reports say the ACS uses a standard Link-16 (960 megahertz – 1.215gigahertz) tactical datalink to move traffic from the ground to the aircraft. The key attraction of the ACS/IAMT combination is that it avoids the crew having to manually enter new data into their mission management systems. By adopting this process crew workload is reduced and margins for error when entering data are reduced. During the recent demonstrations of the ACS/IAMT combination 50 mission updates were performed across this link.

Dynamic Retargeting

From a concept of operations perspective, using the ACS/IAMT combination will greatly accelerate the aircraft’s dynamic retargeting. For example, the coordinates of mobile targets which may have been spotted by satellites or reconnaissance aircraft can now be fed directly to the bomber. Dynamic retargeting is highly relevant for a ‘first day or war’ asset like the B-2A. These bombers, which have a low radar cross section design are likely to be sent deep into contested airspace. The aircraft may be tasked with prosecuting difficult-to-find targets like mobile ballistic missile launchers. Adding the ACS/IAMT capability to the aircraft should ease missions like these. Given the B-2A is also tasked with part of the US nuclear strike mission, it seems plausible that the ACS/IAMT could help the dynamic retargeting of strategic missions.

Moreover, ACS/IAMT dovetails well with the US Air Force’s prevailing move towards Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). MDO strives for the inter- and intra-force connectivity of all military assets to perform synchronous operations at all levels of war using a better quality and pace of decision-making than one’s adversary. The US Department of Defence is fostering MDO via several overarching force-wide command and control initiatives of which the air force’s Air Battle Management System (ABMS) is one.

by Dr. Thomas Withington