Air Force Begins Massive B-1B Overhaul

B-1The Air Force is in the early phases of a multi-year technological overhaul and upgrade of its B1-B Lancer long-range bomber fleet which will outfit all 62 aircraft with a wide-ranging suite of new displays, computer technology and avionics, service officials said.

Called Integrated Battle Station, or IBS, the upgrades consist of three separate efforts to install new displays, integrated data links and diagnostic technologies. The service began fielding the first production IBS aircraft in November of last year and plans to finish the entire fleet by 2019.

“This modernization is the most significant upgrade to the B-1 since initial production,” said Maj. Mick Szczukowski, program element monitor, Air Force acquisition. “Concurrent procurement and installation of all three upgrades reduces installation costs, reduces aircraft downtime, and keeps fielded aircraft configurations to a minimum for aircrew training, maintenance, and operational deployment efficiencies.”

The upgrades are intended to preserve the service-life of the 1980s-built B-1 aircraft through 2040, he added.

After being built in the 1980s, the B1-B Lancer has dropped weapons in a wide range of conflicts. After first serving in Operation Desert Fox over Iraq in 1998, the aircraft has performed missions in Operation Allied Force over Kosovo, served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and flown missions over Libya in 2011.

During the first six months of Operation Enduring Freedom, eight B-1s dropped nearly 40-percent of the total tonnage delivered by coalition air forces, Air Force officials said. This included roughly 3,900 guided bombs or Joint Direct Attack Munitions, called JDAMs.

The aircraft is 34-feet tall, 146-feet long and has a wingspan of 137 feet. The B-1 weighs roughly 196,000 pounds and can hit speeds greater than 900 mph. Its four General Electric turbofan engines each generate 30,000 pounds of thrust, Air Force officials said.

One analyst said the B-1 has considerably evolved its mission scope since its inception in the 1980s.

“This was originally a nuclear-bomber plane and they have had to do a lot to make it capable as a conventional plane. It was absent from the first Gulf War and then became more adaptive and multi-role,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice-president of analysis at the Teal Group, a Va.-based consultancy.

A key element of the upgrades are what the Air Force calls vertical situation display upgrade or VDSU, an effort to replace existing flight instruments with 8-by-6-inch multifunction color displays at each pilot station, Szczukowski added.

In addition, the VDSU adds a second display at each pilot station to better enable pilots to avoid threats and strike emerging targets while functioning as a back-up display, he said.

The second piece of the upgrade includes fully integrated data link, or FIDL. FIDL provides ethernet to transmit flight and weapon data among aircrew stations and to other off-board receivers via line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight networks, Szczukowski said.

“It adds the capability to share information with command-and-control organizations and other air, land, and sea assets in the battle space,” he said.

The IBS technologies are developed by Boeing and handed over to the Air Force for installation on the airframes at a Boeing facility called the Oklahoma City Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Technology Center.

“Before there was a monochrome monitor and there was also an old analogue tape which monitored airspeed and vertical velocity. Now there are two advanced liquid crystal displays,” said Dan Ruder, B-1 advanced program, Boeing. “This provides new primary flight displays in color. “

FIDL also replaces monochromatic displays at the rear cockpit crew stations with color multifunctional displays, a streamlining move which will help the crew with weapons assignment and delivery. In addition, this will allow the crew to perform rapid airborne retargeting missions using machine-to-machine data transfers, he added.

FIDL also inculdes a beyond-line-of-sight data link integrating with the B-1 avionics system. This enables a ground commander to task a B-1 well outside of the battlespace, Air Force officials said. At the same time, command and control far removed from the battlespace can task or re-task a B-1 that is en-route or already in the battlespace.

The third piece of the IBS upgrade is the addition of memory capacity to the diagnostics data base, Szczukowski explained.

The Air Force lists the price of a B1-B Lancer at $283.1 million in 1998 dollars, and service officials say the fleet-wide IBS upgrades will cost $918 million for procurement and installation and $391 million for research and engineering.

In addition to IBS, the Air Force is also pursuing a handful of additional upgrades to the B-1 bomber to include improvements to its navigation system. Beginning last year, the Air Force began fielding a program called inertial navigation system replacement, or INSR, which improves navigation by replacing two spinning mass gyroscopic inertial navigation system with ring laser gyroscopic systems and a new GPS antenna, Szczukowski added.

The INSR program will cost $88 million in research and $93 million in procurement and installation dollars, he said.

The Air Force has also begun fielding new radar technology for the B-1, replacing the APQ-164 radar and conducting the first major radar modification for the B-1 in 25 years. The effort, which began fielding in 2012, is slated to cost $373 million.

The B-1 is also slated to receive a new attitude indicator, an instrument which provides angle of the aircraft, airspeed and altitude information to the crew. The new system, to field by 2015, will replace three existing instruments with a single integrated instrument, service officials said.

Aboulafia said the B-1 upgrades represent an Air Force effort to expand the mission possibilities for the aircraft.

“There’s so much that needs to be done. It was designed with a long-range capability and supersonic air speed. The B-1 is best described as a work in progress. It has needed to become a multi-role bomber capable of surviving in more advanced threat environments,” he said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Andy

    Hope they will upgrade to carry 20 or more Tomahaws misslies or long range air to air missiles…

    • Hialpha

      Won’t ever carry air to air missiles, I think; though the B-1 is fast, it makes too good of a target in an air-to-air engagement.

    • Tomahawks are for the Navy. They carry ALCMs, 12 external, 8 internal.

      • Dave Kugler

        ALCM was eliminated from the B-1 by START many years ago. Original moveable bulkhead to accommodate ALCM was welded in place and the external hard points were removed to demonstrate treaty compliance. B-1 is a conventional only platform despite its roots.

    • Doug

      Why not lease some to the RAF

  • Ben

    Only old geezers on the verge of retirement (maybe he needs an upgrade too?) refer to LCDs as “advanced liquid crystal displays” in a sentence, lol.

    Good to see the bones getting some more life, though.

    • blight_

      Cathode Ray Tubes!

    • Boeing was a screw up in the initial production. I doubt they’ll be any better this time around since they moved the CEOs to Chicago.

      • pcleech

        Boeing didn’t make the initial B-1s.

        • Atomic Walrus

          No, but North American Rockwell became part of Boeing about 20 years ago. It gets a bit confusing post-consolidation. I still have a hard time getting used to the idea of the F-15 and F-18 being made by Boeing. When I was a kid, Boeing was a manufacturer of airliners, period.

  • Daren

    It would be nice to see the engines replaced with F-22 engines. Talked with a B-1 pilot and that was being considered before all the goverment cuts.

  • Lance

    I thought the USAF was going to retire the B-1 to save the worthless JSF????? Wonder what changed there minds????? Doesn’t matter the B-52 will outlive the B-1 over time anyway.

  • jamesb

    Hire Dale Brown as the Project manager…..

    • Nolen McMorris

      That has probably already been done.. I remember a General saying, about ten years ago, that what we see was being done 20 years ago.

      • blight_

        More like “what you see now took twenty years from prototype to mass production”.

  • mpower6428

    Just one simple but, serious question…. couldn’t a modified 737 have done the same thing for the past 20 years…? and seeing as how the HI – LO – LO strike mission into the soviet motherland is no longer realistic… why shouldn’t we use some sort of modified commercial bomb truck to deliver PGM’s…?

    having said that, I hope they don’t scrap them. Airshows are always WAAAY better with B-1’s

  • I would like to see a directed energy system suite on one or more of these aircraft. They have the room and the lift capability to install that system displayed recently on a frigate.

    Would a revolving launcher for AIM 120D’s be too much to ask for? In case our forces are swarmed by high volume, low tech fighters or drones – flying aresenal can be used to supplement the limited on-board ordinance carried by our Raptors.

    • blight_

      Or more amusingly, a missile truck would hang back and fire AMRAAMs, with telemetry passed by F-22s via datalink to the missiles after handoff.

      The only problem would be that missile truck would have to turn and run before being intercepted by long range air-to-air missiles.

    • Hialpha

      Directed energy weapons are great for very “in close” point defense of slow moving threats. Doesn’t sound like something useful on an airborne platform.

      The AIM-120 truck idea isn’t a great one given threat ranges of comparable missiles from FSU and China.

    • Tiger

      After spending all this money on F-22’s & F-35’s I would hope they could at least do something as basic as fly cover…..
      High volume,low tech fighters? Where is this air force with a magic supply of Mig 21’s or Phantoms to throw?

      • You get the brass to buy stuff with a cute cool acronym and awesome Power Point slides. works every time. Ditto Congress. just slip them some campaign contributions and promise to buy something made in their district.

    • I would not be surprised if they are not working on integrating a directed energy system as we type these words.

  • William_C1

    Are they ever going to upgrade the defensive ECM suite as planned in the past but was eventually delayed or cancelled on at least one occasion?

  • hank

    Is ironic that the planes most useful in Iraq and Afgan like the B-1, B-52, A-10s, ect were all developed in the 70s and the B-52 in the 50s. Not too mention the U-2.
    Now we only produce products like the F-22, F-35 that aren’t useful in real world senarios but look nice at air shows.

    • Guest

      Not really. Aside from the F-22, and until the F35s enter service the only fighters and bombers we have are basically the ones developed in the 70s and 80s, so those are the ones that saw service during those wars.

    • jamesb

      It ain’t ironic….

      Old stuff IS better the NEWS stuff they have today….

    • F-23 won the fly off. IT was politics. Who cares, they’re a cash hog for the shareholders.

  • hibeam

    .You know the best thing about the B-1B? There is no VTOL Marines version.

    • Shaun Pollock

      Yet. :)

      • pcleech

        That would be a sight to see!

    • Gary smith

      Why hating on the marines. For years they have received the hammy downs from the navy an the army. I am glad they are getting a new platform.

  • JH

    Just watched B-1B: Doomsday Machine on youtube last week. They mention that it could have been used in Desert Storm, but wasnt, for some reason I cant remember. Fyi its a 2 parter.

    • Politics. We were flight testing conventional weapons on it for years. SAC was lying about it being nuclear capable and needed for the SIOP so they sent B-52s in. It was a WH pentagon hack decision.

    • The B1 was grounded during Desert Storm due to engine fires. I know that because I worked on t hem. Problem was fixed and we flew the next time we were needed. It happens…to all the planes.

    • chris

      During Desert Storm all B1Bs were fitted and designed for nuclear war and only nuclear war.

    • Guy

      The Air Force used B-52Gs that were in the process of being retired to the boneyard to fight Desert Storm. The retirement decision was due to nuclear arms reduction agreements and to save money in a period of declining defense budgets. The newest B-52s, the H model, and B-1s were held back as part of the SIOP. We ran out of places to bed down the big bombers and had more than enough Gs to support Desert Storm. The Gs served well and headed off to the boneyard pretty much as soon as the war ended.

    • Kent

      It had an engine problem (throwing fan blades) which grounded it during Desert Storm. In the very first B-1B crash during a low-level terrain following (TF) training mission over La Junta, CO , the SAC crash investigation board concluded that it was ingestion of Canadian geese (three crew members of the six on board were killed, the two in the aisle, and the IP in the copilot seat: the ACES II ejection seat failed). In a later incident, where one of the engines fell off (the two large bolts that held the engine in the cowl had been severed), the AF concluded that fan blades came loose and severed those bolts. This is what grounded the fleet during Desert Storm.

  • Nadnerbus

    As far as acronyms go, they could have picked a better one than IBS. Just, uh, Google it.

  • Guest

    Good to hear. I had wondered why the B1 hadn’t got a modern glass cockpit and some computer upgrades yet. Now if only they’d pursue that B1R proposal from some years back….unlikely but it would be cool nevertheless

    • Tiger

      The USAF checkbook only goes so far. They used the money for the B-1 upgrades to keep the SG1 team moving through the Stargates…….

    • They have. Just not a lot more of the upgraded avionics. IT was built in the early 80s. You could only upgrade so much once its in the fleet. There were about 3 basic versions, up to A/C 9, then up to A/C 28, then the rest had a long weapons bay and an aft bay only and could carry ALCMs either external or internal or both. Aft bay turbulence was fixed by then . Quick solution, open all bays when dropping from aft. WBs weren’t kept open for a long time, snap open, drop, close.

  • Hialpha

    I’ve read more than few comments the Raptor using it’s radar for offboard support of B-1 AMRAAM shots. I can’t be the only one around here to understands why that’s a stupid idea, right?

    //Chucking spears as able.

  • Richard Morrison

    The B-1 was only designed to be nuclear 24 hr delivery device… adapted to be conventional dynamic. The 737 is actually used by the USN P-8 Poseidon and is to replace the aging P-3 Orions.. so yeah it could work, but the B-1 as a bomber with a speed of over 1200 miles an hr and flies low(real low) and agile is the best weapons system delivery vehicle around… the 737 only flies at 350-450 MAXIMUM..

  • madskilz48

    I am more then willing to pay $1.5 billion or so to upgrade a plane for the next 25 years. It is a lot cheaper then doing the F-35 program that I am sure will be over $500 billion for purchases and another $2 trillion for maintenance. Also agree with the speed of 900 mph over the 500 maybe from a 737.

  • Stan

    IBS is a very unfortunate acronym.

    • d. kellogg

      Well, if they were to adopt F-22 engines as a future upgrade,
      wasn’t there, for a time, F-22 pilot issues with certain physiological side effects?
      Hypoxia, nausea, etc (more than once it has been suggested it may have been a result of the acoustics/vibration spectrum the higher-output engine operated at, affecting the human anatomy that previously were never experienced)…

      The IBS acronym could be the source of many jokes…
      The thoughts of B-1Cs (with enough upgrades, give it a new designator) with 4 F-22 type engines…could one of those down-in-the-weeds show-of-force flyby’s in Taliban country effectively create a “brown noise effect” sweep thru the valley ?


  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Hialpha, why not a bigger missile – specifically the forthcoming SM-6 edition of the Standard? If a fired missile can be handed off from one vessel to another via CEC, why not let a B-1B and a much bigger missile, with its’ longer range?

    I’m assuming that your complaint to using the AIM-120 is that it brings the B-1B platform too close to enemy fighters. Do I misunderstand you?

    I’m also mildly surprised by the lack of official interest in an upgraded ECM system (one that works) for the B-1B, but the AF is deeply committed to all-stealth, all the time, and looking at a new strategic bomber, so ECM for the B-1B is too far down the priority list to matter.

  • jsallison

    I’d be more impressed if they’d hang 4 HiBypass Turbofans under the BUFFs.

  • Critical Mass

    IIRC the ECM system began life with over 100 LRU’s which is a serious nightmare to begin with. We may learn someday that the instability in what remained of the “Soviet” military and political system was the reason for stopping the Gulf War action at 100 hours and perhaps also for not having B1’s in the air headed East. If I had been an ambitious Russian general I might have used that as an excuse to have a little coup party “to preserve the Motherland in the face of imminent attack from the West”. Just sayin’.

  • oblatt2

    The air-force knows it will soon have to retire the B-1s so its the last chance to pump some cash to those contractors with a unneeded upgrade.

  • Only 62? I thought they had 98 or 99 B-1Bs left?

    • I seem to recall maybe a dozen crashed. Others were mothballed. I used to have an exact number. B-1As are gone (that’s 4). B-1A 174 is in the SAC museum in Nebraska in camo it never wore. Wrong marking on it too. B-1A/158 crashed in flight testing in early 80s. not sure where a/c 1 and a/c 2 went. One was to go to Rome as a trainer, but Rome was BRACed. I’ve heard one was scrapped in Alaska. Lots were mothballed by Rumsfeld.

    • dcp

      several have crashed, some canabalzed for parts the wings are the prob and shorten the lifespan of the airframe.

    • Chuck Mock

      Too many had high “G” turns and had some nasty structural cracks. Just about every Air Force Museum has a B-1. Some of the pilots thought they were flying a fighter…opps!

  • Dave Barnes

    What a waste of money.
    Take the money and buy some more A-10s.

  • Big-Dean

    it’ll be much easier for the backseaters to play Nintendo now with those nice big flat screens ;-P

  • Josh

    All the tech upgrades are cool but when the structure of the damn thing is falling apart it ain’t gonna last 20 plus more years…Heard

    • Cracked

      Finally, someone who knows what they are talking about.

  • TonyC.

    Always liked the B1, looks like a fighter on steroids. The Air Force knows that the B-52 fleet has aged to the point of no return. The B1 will allow them to operate manned bombers for alot longer, although the drones ahve been effective recently. Too bad the A-10 will be sacrificed for Air Force modernization.


    Any plan to upgrade or overhaul the B-1B bomber fleet needs to include a scalable agile beam radar from the F-16 program and PW F119 engines from the F-22 Raptor as these are two components necessary to improve the overall performance of the aircraft.

  • Tallman

    This won’t be the first time you monday mkring quarterbacks have ben wrong about the future and what we need to do. last chance tp shuttle money top the contractor my butt!!!!

  • Dfens

    Is it just my eyes, or does it look like that B-1 in the picture is landing on an access ramp instead of the runway?

  • pat

    Long live the B -52 and God bless the D. May it rest in peace

  • Question: Last time I checked, there were a bunch of B-1’s in the boneyard (no pun intended) at Davis Monathon AFB near Tucson. Will these be pulled out of “mothballs” and refurbished/upgraded too? If not, why not?

  • TIM

    There probably are some b-1’s in the boneyard as long term storage for spare parts for the others. Remember they did that with a bunch of the B-52’s as well. Remember they aren’t building any moe of these airframes and if they need parts that aren’t readily available what are they gonna do? It’s also important that we remember that these airframes have very low hours of use relative to the age of the planes. This makes them a valuable commodity to modify and upgrade over time. We haven’t seen the end of this weapon system and everything that has been done to modernize the B-52 fleet of less than 100 planes can be done to the B-1’s as well. After all it still has an incredible payload capacity and has proven that it can be at least as flexible as the the big BUFF’s and at 900 miles an hour at extremely low level and in all weather as a penetrator. We haven’t had that since we lost the F-111’s and they didn’t have near the bomb capacity . . .

  • sirvando vargas

    B1 The “Bone” has turned out to be one the best Aircraft to have in the Arsenal. Thinking back when it was under developement, it almost got cancelled by Politicions who said it just just an expensive Turkey. Yet , with it’s terrain following Radar system at High speed ,it was an Aircraft to be feared by any adversary. It was’t called the DoomsDay machine for nothing. Glad its still going to be around for years to come.