Team accelerates test, delivers B‑1B close-air support capability to warfighter

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) — A devel­op­men­tal test team here part­nered with an oper­a­tional test team from Texas to accel­er­ate test­ing and deliv­er to the warfight­er B‑1B Lancers that can find and strike mov­ing tar­gets in close-air sup­port of ground troops even quick­er than before.

A pod posi­tioned under the fuse­lage of a B‑1B Lancer was the part of the focus of a test con­duct­ed Nov. 15, 2011, by mem­bers of the 419th Flight Test Squadron and Glob­al Pow­er Bomber Com­bined Test Force and the 337th Test and Eval­u­a­tion Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. The test com­plet­ed the Lap­top Con­trolled Tar­get­ing Pod Phase II upgrade to the B‑1. The upgrade gives the air­craft new capa­bil­i­ties includ­ing a reduced time­line to find and strike mov­ing tar­gets in close air sup­port of ground troops. (U.S Air Force photo/Kate Blais)
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Merg­ing devel­op­men­tal and oper­a­tional test­ing to con­sol­i­date resources on a com­pressed time­line, mem­bers of the 419th Flight Test Squardon and Glob­al Pow­er Bomber Com­bined Test Force and the 337th Test and Eval­u­a­tion Squadron from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, worked to ensure the B‑1 upgrade was ready for com­bat oper­a­tions by January. 

The mem­bers of the 419th FLTS and 337th TES con­duct­ed a series of tests that cul­mi­nat­ed Nov. 15, com­plet­ing Lap­top Con­trolled Tar­get­ing Pod Phase II

“Dur­ing Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom and Oper­a­tion Endur­ing Free­dom, it became clear that the B‑1 need­ed an addi­tion­al capa­bil­i­ty to sup­port close-air sup­port sce­nar­ios,” said Christi­na Ryskey, the project lead engi­neer and B‑1 tar­get­ing pod engi­neer at the 419th Flight Test Squadron and Bomber Com­bined Test Force. 

That capa­bil­i­ty came in the form of Lap­top Tar­get­ing Pod Phase I. 

“The first phase inte­grat­ed a tar­get­ing pod, but still required the weapons sys­tem oper­a­tor to man­u­al­ly enter any coor­di­nates derived from the tar­get­ing pod,” said Maj. David Marten, the B‑1 flight com­man­der and project pilot at the 419th FLTS. “This only allowed the pod to be use­ful on sta­tion­ary targets.” 

Although Phase I allowed the B‑1 to inter­face with the tar­get­ing pod, it proved to be a lim­it­ed capa­bil­i­ty, as there was no hand-off of infor­ma­tion from the pod back to the air­plane. Although coor­di­nates were derived from the pod, man­u­al­ly enter­ing the data increased time and decreased the B‑1’s abil­i­ty to strike a mov­ing target. 

The solu­tion, LCTP Phase II

“Now with the sec­ond phase, we not only have the abil­i­ty to com­plete the loop of the tar­get­ing pod, but also include the abil­i­ty to drop laser tar­get­ed bombs from the B‑1,” said Lt. Col. Hans Miller, the 419th FLTS com­man­der and Bomber Com­bined Test Force direc­tor. “So not only can I track and iden­ti­fy the tar­gets on the ground, I can strike ground tar­gets mov­ing at low and high speeds. That is a cru­cial capa­bil­i­ty that we have with this upgrade.” 

A com­plet­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tion loop between the plane and the tar­get­ing pod, which allows for direct impor­ta­tion of coor­di­nates, short­ens the kill chain, which is a sig­nif­i­cant increase to capa­bil­i­ty in the field, said Marten. 

“Guys on the ground call­ing for air sup­port will get their bombs faster and with more pre­ci­sion,” he said. 

“If we’re told that there’s a tar­get in the vicin­i­ty, via ground troops, I can visu­al­ly acquire with the pod, get exact loca­tion, direct­ly import that infor­ma­tion into the weapon sys­tem and attack it,” said Maj. Michael Jungquist, the 419th FLTS project weapons sys­tem offi­cer. “The tar­get­ing pod tells the weapon exact­ly where to go and can refine the tar­get with lasers in the pod. I’ll be able to put weapons on a tar­get, even if it was­n’t where it was when I first start­ed look­ing at it.” 

LCTP Phase II’s self-las­ing capa­bil­i­ty allows the B‑1 to track tar­gets, con­stant­ly update its coor­di­nates and employ GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition. 

“With Phase II, the B‑1 gets as much pre­ci­sion as any close air sup­port play­er, but now com­bined with glob­al reach, large pay­load and long loi­ter time pro­vid­ed by a strate­gic bomber,” Marten said. 

In addi­tion to favor­able test results and upgrad­ed capa­bil­i­ties, the plan­ning and exe­cu­tion of the test­ing were impor­tant pieces to the puz­zle because the time between test com­mence­ment to oper­a­tional deliv­ery was only 8 months. 

“Anoth­er huge suc­cess of the Novem­ber test was that it was a great exam­ple of inte­grat­ed oper­a­tional and devel­op­men­tal test,” Miller said. “We worked on a com­pressed time­line and despite some issues that were found in a test, and cor­rec­tions that were pre­sent­ed and fixed, we were able to still meet that field­ing rec­om­men­da­tion and deploy­ment time­line so that this can get to the fight and be use­able for com­bat crews going out next deployment.” 

Check­ing into the fight this Jan­u­ary is a B‑1 with more capa­bil­i­ties to sup­port the joint ser­vice effort. 

“We had a time­line to meet in order to bet­ter sup­port troops on the ground,” Jungquist said, “and we’re mak­ing that happen.” 

U.S. Air Force 

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