US Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber
US Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber

US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress IRIS Air Demo Complete at Barksdale Air Force Base

The U.S. Air Force has moved one step closer to equipping B-52 Stratofortress with a new beyond line of sight communication capability called IRIS. The 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron executed the first air demonstration utilizing the BLOS communication system paired with an Iridium Certus terminal on a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, June. 22, 2022. While the bomber crew took to the skies, a combat operations team from the 608th Air Operations Center provided command and control and assessed the voice and data transfer capabilities that were observed from the IRIS-equipped B-52 to include the transmission of real-time images and videos. The IRIS system, which leverages the Low Earth Orbit Iridium NEXT satellite constellation guarantees complete global coverage. Additionally, IRIS will forgo using the dated 2.4 Kbps bandwidth capacity of Iridium for the much improved L-Band speeds of Iridium Certus, a broadband service that has a bandwidth capacity of up to 704 Kbps.

“In a wartime scenario the single point of failure often lies in our ability to communicate. If we can’t send and receive mission critical data from our aircraft reliably and efficiently, then we will lose. The IRIS system is one of the many datalink solutions that we need in order to equip the warfighter for today’s fight.,” said Capt. Richard Brown, 49th TES Conventional test flight commander.

“Today, we learned that the IRIS System can be immediately employed using current joint tactics for operational and tactical control of long-range strike aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Paul Goossen, 608th AOC Combat Operations Division chief.

Sam Denison, a senior software developer at the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Barksdale AFB, La., installs a beyond line of sight communications system, called IRIS, into a B-52 at Barksdale AFB, La., June 22, 2022. The 49th TES conducted the first aerial demonstration of the IRIS system while the 608th Air Operations Center monitored and assess the data, voice and imagery relays from the aircraft. (Photo by Senior Airman Jonathan E. Ramos/U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force found that the AFWERX SBIR’s program works to find rapid prototype solutions through commercially available means. Sometimes the solutions to global problems can be found in your local community from small vendors. The AOC team also acknowledged the method of “how” the Service acquires a new capability plays a significant role in the timeline of fielding the new capability. Air Force Global Strike Command leveraged an AFWERX Small Business Innovation Research Phase II contract to gauge the feasibility of tying a commercial, off-the-shelf Outerlink Global Solutions system into the B-52 global satellite architecture to enable unimpeded coverage. The SBIR program engages small businesses with federal research and development.

Following the success of the test event, AFGSC will continue working through the AFWERX process to attain a SBIR Strategic Finance contract to support IRIS. This will allow for permanent bomber integration and seamless coordination across geographic air operation centers using the system. IRIS is set to replace the Global Iridium Bomber Set (GLIBS) that has been in service since 2017. The BLOS communication system is one of AFGSC’s solutions to integrate the B-52 Stratofortress fleet into the greater Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) problem set. IRIS is one of many programs on the horizon responsible for the B-52 paradigm shift from a legacy sustainment platform to a lethally modernized multi-domain aircraft.

Staff Sgt. Kyle Snedeker, center-right, a tactical data link manager from the 608th Air Operations Center, shows Brig. Gen. Scheid Hodges, center-left, Mobilization Assistant to the 8th Air Force Commander, the B-52 route during an aerial demonstration of the new IRIS communications system. IRIS is a commercial off-the-shelf, beyond line of sight tool produced by Outerlink. The system would allow for bombers to relay data, voice and imagery information in near real time speeds. (Photo by Senior Airman Jonathan E. Ramos/U.S. Air Force)