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Streaking across the sky
A September contract awarded by the Electronic Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., will provide greatly enhanced communication capability to the B-1B Lancer, shown here, and the B-52 Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Corey Hook.)
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Contract extension will put CLIP aboard bombers

Posted 10/21/2010   Updated 10/21/2010 Email story   Print story

    


by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs


10/21/2010 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- A September 29 Electronic Systems Center contract award will enable continued integration of an airborne communication system aboard two key Air Force platforms.

The $14 million award to Northrop Grumman Corp. extends a previous contract to develop and test the Common Link Integration Processing (CLIP) system on B-1B Lancers and B-52 Stratofortresses. CLIP, which is a software product, will be incorporated into larger communications upgrades planned for both platforms.

While this effort deals specifically with the B-1B and B-52, CLIP could ultimately be used across the Air Force and joint inventory. The common integration software can be tailored to interface with host platform computers and to help translate various message formats, said Capt. Kyle Harrington, the program manager.

"That's what makes it common," he said. "It was originally designed to work with many data links on multiple platforms."

The 17-month contract extension will allow the contractor team to support software integration on both platforms. The Air Force intends to equip all 66 aircraft in the B-1 bomber fleet and all of its 76 B-52s with the system.

CLIP is what's known as middleware, software specifically designed to help two disparate components interoperate. It translates and formats messages for crews onboard and allows them to send messages to any authorized recipient, Captain Harrington said.

Because it resides on an external central processing unit, CLIP also obviates the need to alter the aircraft's main flight processor.

Program officials, who have been delivering and lab-testing software builds since October 2009, flew CLIP on its initial test sorties in June. Those flight tests, as a component of the B-1B Lancer Fully Integrated Data Link program, demonstrated CLIP's ability to exchange real-time unit and tracking information on the Link 16 network and the Joint Range Extension satellite network.

"That's the first time we'd flown, and from there we accomplished a lot in a relatively short time, in terms of correcting problems we knew about and those we discovered," Captain Harrington said.

Up next, more flight testing - starting in December with a series of B-1B flights - which will allow further evaluation of the system. That should lead to Initial Operational Test and Evaluation by spring 2011 and an Initial Operating Capability declaration by next September.

Full Operational Capability will come once the B-52 testing is complete. That's currently anticipated to occur in March 2012.

CLIP was initiated by both the Air Force and Navy as a collaborative effort in 2004, and the Navy is still a major partner in its development today. Program managers still use Naval testing facilities in San Diego, and the Navy continues to explore options for using CLIP aboard its platforms.

"This is definitely a system that has the potential for widespread utility," Captain Harrington said.



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