Warplanes: December 27, 2001

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The US Air Force is planning further upgrades to the B-1B bomber fleet. It expects to save about $834 million between 2003 and 2007 by grounding all but 60 of the aircraft and shutting down B-1B operations in three of the five bases. Of the aircraft stored in Arizona, ten will be maintained as flyable spares and the others cannibalized for parts. All but a few B-1Bs have been upgraded to Block-D. This includes the capability to employ the Joint Direct Attack Munition, which effectively converts the nuclear bomber into a premier conventional strike platform. Block D also includes the ALE-50 towed decoy, a GPS navigation system, and a new communications system that allows the crew to get current battlefield information more quickly. The sixty aircraft kept in service will get the Block E upgrade next. This enhances the offensive capability of the bomber with a new attack computer that is 300 times faster and more powerful that the current system. This will allow the planes to carry the Joint Stand Off Weapon, the Joint Air To Surface Standoff Munition, and the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser. The more powerful computer will allow the aircraft to carry different types of weapons in each of the three bomb bays. The Block-F upgrade will provide protection from those air defenses (like the Russian S300) expected by 2010. This replaces the electronic warfare system with new, more powerful, jammers. This will also upgrade the ALE-50 towed decoy to the ALE-55 fiber-optic towed decoy. The first aircraft to receive Block F will have it by 2005. Later upgrades will include the Link-16 datalink, beyond-line-of-sight satellite communications, and new color monitors in the instrument panels.--Stephen V Cole

 


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