20 years overdue, the USAF B-2 Spirit communications upgrade programme is finally set to begin.
Right now, USAF Northrop B-2 Stealth Bombers receive presidential force instructions via ultra-high frequency communications systems, enabled by MILSTAR (Military Strategic Tactical and Relay) satellites. These satellites, though, are rapidly approaching their scheduled retirement date. Therefore, a programme named CVR Increment 1 is set to be introduced.
CVR (Common Very Low Frequency Receiver) will supply USAF B-2 pilots with "another, more reliable means to receive presidential force direction via emergency action messages", according to Gary Doolittle from the USAF's Global Strike Command.
Upgraded Stealth Communications
With this upgraded stealth communications system activated, the USAF's B-2s would receive signals without the need for the MILSTAR satellite fleet. Thus, the Air Force's Stealth capability would remain formidable while a MILSTAR replacement could be conceived, developed and pressed into service.
CVR Increment 1 took a significant step forward two months ago, when Engineering and Manufacturing Development Phase approval was granted. So, before too long, CVR Increment 1-based B-2 flight trials should be launched.
USAF officials make the point that, while CVR Increment 1 is B-2-optimised, the system could be adapted for other types of aircraft in US military service. These types could include the B-52 Stratofortress strategic heavy bomber, introduced in 1955 but set to remain with the USAF into the 2040s.
B-2 Communications Upgrade
USAF officials now expect that CVR Increment 1 communication systems will start to be operationally deployed on B-2s from 2017 onwards.
The B-2 Spirit ‘Stealth Bomber' and the B-52H Stratofortress are both part of the USAF's Global Strike Command. The USAF B-2 fleet has been extensively deployed on operations including Operation Odyssey - the 2011 sorties over Libya.
Introduced to the world in 1988, the B-2 Spirit is a dedicated low-observable strike platform. Its overall shape is intended to minimise its presence on enemy radar screens, allowing it to then deliver nuclear or conventional weapons after penetrating thick anti-aircraft defences.