By John Keller
SEAL BEACH, Calif. - Avionics designers of the U.S. Air Force Boeing B-1B bomber are moving from proprietary technology to an open-systems architecture based on the IBM/Motorola PowerPC 603e microprocessor, the VME64 backplane and 6U printed circuit boards, and the Fibre Channel high-speed data bus.
The strategic B-1 Lancer, a mainstay of U.S. nuclear deterrence for more than a decade, joins a growing list of major weapon systems incorporating the PowerPC. That list includes the U.S. Navy Raytheon/E-Systems Cooperative Engagement Capability, the U.S. Army General Dynamics M1A2 main battle tank upgrade, and the Navy Hughes Light-weight Hybrid Torpedo.
The choice of PowerPC for the B-1`s weapons-control avionics is part of a larger program at Boeing to overhaul the Lancer`s flight-control computers, target attack radar system, and electronic warfare suite.
Officials of the Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center in Dayton, Ohio, awarded Boeing North American of Seal Beach, Calif., a $179 million contract Feb. 12 to upgrade the B-1`s flight computers and software, as well as install additional weapons-delivery capability.
Engineers at Lockheed Martin Federal Systems in Owego, N.Y., will supply the new PowerPC-based computers, and the Northrop Grumman Electronic Sensors and Systems Division in Baltimore will correct software deficiencies in the aircraft`s offensive radar system.
Lockheed Martin engineers will replace six existing computers on the B-1 with four new computers to provide 25 times the throughput of the existing aircraft`s avionics, and increase the memory and I/O margins to accommodate conventional weapons.
The B-1 until now has been designed primarily to carry nuclear weapons and has had little, if any, conventional role. The aircraft is one of the few modern U.S. bombers that did not see action during the Persian Gulf War.
The new B-1 flight computers will have a single-processor architecture at the unit level, but will allow for multiprocessor applications in the future, according to a prepared statement from the B-1 design team at Boeing.
The 6U VME printed circuit boards to be designed into the new computers closely match the aircraft`s existing proprietary 6-by-9-inch boards, and will enable designers to upgrade the computers easily as more powerful VME single-board computers become available, the statement says.
Boeing engineers will not require mil-spec components in the avionics, and point out that non-developmental components - including commercial off-the-shelf ruggedized VME modules - will be appropriate for the B-1`s avionics design.
Data communications aboard the aircraft will come from the VME64 80-megabyte-per-second backplane data bus, eight redundant Mil-Std 1553B 1-megabit-per-second serial bus interfaces, and two arbitrated-loop Fibre Channel interfaces designed to operate at a raw serial rate of as fast as 1.06 gigabits per second.
High-order software programming languages, including Ada, will be used in designing the avionics, and for avionics applications, the statement says.