49 TES, SBIR contractors connect B-52 to Iridium Satellite constellation

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Lindsey Heflin
  • 53rd Wing Public Affairs
The 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron partnered with Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contractors to improve the communication capabilities in the B-52 Stratofortress. This event culminated in a June 29, 2021 demonstration that connected the B-52 to the International Marine/Maritime Satellite (INMARSAT) constellation with the ultimate goal of fielding this commercial off the shelf (COTS) system with an Iridium Certus terminal.
The 49 TES conducted the demonstration as part of AFWERX SBIR’s Phase II contract award with Outerlink Global Solutions, to determine the feasibility of using their COTS system to tie the B-52 into a global satellite architecture.
“When looking at the contested and degraded environment of tomorrow, a significant concern is unimpeded communication,” said Lt. Col. Matt Guasco, commander, 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron. “Few targets are static, virtually everything moves. We need the capability to push data packages to re-program our standoff weapons in flight at will in order to maintain tempo; speed in relation to our adversary.”
The B-52 is slated to continue flying well into the 2050s, but doing so means ensuring the platform is equipped with the most up to date engines, hypersonic missiles, and radar navigation systems, but it is improved communication capabilities that are truly needed to modernize the lethality and survivability of the jet.
With over 66 active satellites in low earth orbit, the Iridium constellation has the ability to offer true global unimpeded coverage for the first time in B-52 history with data transfer rates that far outpace what our warfighter has today, explained Guasco.
The SBIR program is a highly competitive contracting vehicle that encourages domestic small business to engage in federal research and development, cutting down the programmatic process from three to five years to within 18 months. The 49 TES is working to modernize the B- 52 every day as they conduct Operational Test and Evaluation and develop joint Tactics, techniques and procedures; using SBIR contracts allows units like the 49 TES to test and deliver at the speed of relevance.
“AFGSC wants the B-52 to have the capability to talk to anyone around the world, but the current Iridium service we use is too slow and not available fleet-wide,” said Maj. Kevan Remick, Assistant Director of Operations, Future Capabilities Division, 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron. “We began researching for a communication architecture that already exists, and through SBIR, we did a successful ground demonstration within three months. That’s pretty quick.”
That is the beauty of being agile with small business, according to Remick. These teams are small, but effective. There are competent people that care about the project, and with some layers of bureaucracy removed, the end result is getting technology on the aircraft faster at a lower cost.
“Communication is critical especially when you look at the fog and friction of war. The warfighter needs multiple nodes to communicate, and they need to be able to process the same data across all nodes,” said Guasco. “These small business initiatives are going to help us get there.”