Keeping B-2 Bomber Off Your TV

In early flight tests, new radar for the Air Force’s B-2 bomber, which was designed to not interfere with commercial satellite television signals, had technical problems, but the Air Force reports it will solve the problems.

In 2002, the Air Force and B-2 contractor Northrop Grumman started a $900 million program to develop radar that would not interfere with satellites operating in the Ku-frequency band (11.7-12.7 gigahertz) and to upgrade defensive management systems. But the Air Force ran into “technical maturity problems” with the new radar, which could require the B-2 radar to stop using the Ku-band frequencies at a classified “near term” date, according to the House Appropriations Committee report on the 2008 Defense Appropriations bill.

The Air Force is restructuring the radar modernization program, and details will not be finalized until next year, Christopher McGee, a spokesman for the Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center, wrote in an e-mail response to questions. McGee wrote that the design of the radar and the technology it uses is sound.

The Air Force has required Northrop to conduct more development work on the B-2 radar, McGee said, such as developing more capable transmit/receive elements for a relatively large antenna array. Last month, Kenny Linn, Northrop Grumman’s director of business development, said the company is replacing the bomber's mechanically steered radar antenna with an advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array Antenna (AESA). The antenna, under development by Raytheon, consists of 2,000 transmit/receive modules.

Until the new radars go into production and are installed on the aircraft, McGee said the Air Force will continue to operate the legacy B-2 radar on a nonâ€"interference basis with primary users throughout the transition.

McGee did not provide a date on when the Air Force expected to complete the radar modernization project.