Northrop Grumman Corp. has begun work on a 62-month, $171 M system development and demonstration (SDD) contract for the first increment of a new extremely high frequency (EHF) satellite communications system for the US Air Force's B-2 stealth bomber.

Under a planned three-increment upgrade program, the new EHF system will eventually allow the B-2 to send and receive battlefield information up to 100 times faster than its current ultra-high frequency (UHF) satellite communications system.

Northrop Grumman is the Air Force's prime contractor for the B-2, the flagship of the nation's arsenal of long-range strike aircraft.

"This SDD contract provides significant momentum for the work Northrop Grumman and its subcontractors are doing to increase the B-2's fighting effectiveness in the face of technological advances by our enemies," said Dave Mazur, vice president of Long Range Strike for Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector. "It will help ensure that the aircraft remains a well-integrated, high-value node in the Air Force's long range strike structure."

The authority to proceed with the SDD phase follows the Air Force's Milestone B decision in February authorizing Northrop Grumman to proceed with this first increment of the EHF upgrade program, added Mazur.

During Increment I, the Northrop Grumman-led team will replace the B-2's current flight management computers with a single, integrated processing unit developed by Lockheed Martin Systems Integration. The contract will also involve development of the fiber optic network that will support high speed data transfers to, from and within the aircraft; and delivery of a disk drive unit from Honeywell Defense and Space that will facilitate future transfer of EHF data onto and off of the B-2.

Increment II of the B-2 EHF program will give the aircraft the ability to send and receive information at EHF frequencies, while Increment III will fully integrate the new EHF communications capabilities into the aircraft's controls and displays.

According to Mark Rhoades, Northrop Grumman's EHF Satcom program manager, the EHF Satcom system will also allow the B-2 to connect easily to the US Department of Defense's Global Information Grid, a worldwide network of information systems, processes and personnel involved in collecting, storing, managing and disseminating information on demand to warfighters, policy makers and military support personnel.

In particular, he notes, the EHF will make the B-2 compatible with both current and future secure military satellite communications networks.

"The B-2 will help ensure continuity of secure, worldwide military communications for allied commanders as the current network of Milstar satellites transitions to the new Advanced EHF satellite network," he said.