As demand increases to find innovative ways to support mission requirements in a resource-constrained environment, Air Force Global Strike Command is looking to enhance its warfighting capabilities from within.
As the nation's long-range strike force provider, the command is currently working to improve capabilities available to combatant commanders around the globe by incorporating off-the-shelf technology into its strategic bombers.
Recently, AFGSC's Bomber Requirements Division led a successful demonstration of the AN/ASQ-236 "Dragon's Eye," a podded active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, on a B-52 Stratofortress. Originally fielded for operational use on the F-15E Strike Eagle in 2009, Dragon's Eye was developed to provide aircrew with the ability to geo-locate points of interest, and conduct surveillance activities day or night, in adverse weather conditions.
"The Dragon's Eye enhances the B-52's ability to operate in both contested environments and adverse weather conditions," Maj. Brett Plummer, AFGSC B-52 Requirements Branch chief, said. "The radar's high resolution mapping enables target detection, tracking and subsequent engagement in situations where our existing electro-optical targeting pods cannot."
Jim Noetzel, AFGSC B-52 Requirements Branch analyst, served as the primary program lead for the demonstration. He said validating the ability of the radar and the speed of completion made the demonstration a success.
"We did it faster than a regular modification...we shrunk six to eight months down into about four weeks," Noetzel said. "I can't think of anything we've done that fast in a long time for a demo. It was a huge win for all the players involved to make that happen."
The B-52 Systems Program Office at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, and Northrop Grumman Corporation assisted with the aircraft integration, which was tested on a B-52 assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing
, Air Force Reserve Command. The testing was conducted by the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron and Detachment 1, 53rd Test Management Group, also located at Barksdale AFB.
"Det. 1 and the 49th TES combined efforts to create specific sortie test points," Capt. Christina O'Neill, 49th TES current operations chief, said. "These test points were crucial in determining how the crew would utilize the pod and identify concerns to warfighters in the operational squadrons."
The 307th BW provided maintenance support in addition to supplying the aircraft.
"We assisted in verifying the technical procedures provided by Tinker AFB representatives, AFGSC and Northrop Grumman," said Staff Sgt. Marcella Phillips, team chief for the 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapon loading crew selected to mount the Dragon's Eye pod.
Completing the mission was mutually beneficial for the integrated team.
"It offered new training opportunities in working closely with aircraft engineers and representatives outside our normal day to day activities," Chief Master Sgt. Douglas Baumgartner, 307th AMXS weapons flight chief, said.
By increasing bomber capabilities, initiatives such as Dragon's Eye give the leaders of combat air forces greater flexibility and options in supporting in-theater operations. Pacific Air Forces is interested in the capability and plans to integrate AFGSC B-52s with the Dragon's Eye pod into its upcoming Valiant Shield exercise in September.
"The proven and expanding capabilities of the Dragon's Eye pod paired with the B-52 leverages the existing tremendous range, loiter time and communication capabilities of the B-52 airframe in support of our Maritime Domain Awareness mission," Col. Danny Wolf, Pacific Air Forces' chief of Integrated Air and Missile Defense and Warfighter Integration, said. "Because of the enormous size of the PACOM Area of Responsibility, the MDA mission is a significant challenge for the combatant commander. Fulfilling this mission with aircraft that are already assigned to the theater provides a cost effective solution, because a B-52 fitted with Dragon's Eye does not create a significant increase in support personnel or equipment."
Although it has yet to be determined how Dragon's Eye will be incorporated into the B-52 fleet, the demonstration validates AFGSC's ability to innovate and quickly provide solutions in support of warfighters.
"Our nation's adversaries are not stagnating and neither are we," Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, AFGSC commander, said. "This Dragon's Eye effort demonstrates AFGSC's ability to continue to increase B-52 lethality during lean fiscal times and present capable forces to our combatant commanders."