The U.S. Navy is upgrading the communications network on its E-6B Mercury airborne command post to provide the battle staff on board with faster, more reliable access to both classified and unclassified information. The service recently received the third fleet E-6B outfitted with the Internet protocol bandwidth expansion (IPBE) upgrade.
Boeing, manufacturer of the 707-based E-6B, and avionics supplier Rockwell Collins are prime contractors for the IPBE upgrade, which is tied to a Block 1 modification program that modernizes the aircraft and addresses obsolescence issues. The changes provide the E-6B with an open system architecture for mission avionics and upgrade its onboard communications, including Internet protocol networking and bandwidth capabilities. “The Rockwell system is an adaptation of commercial technologies to an airborne environment but this hardware configuration is unique to the E-6B,” according to the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair). Work is performed by the Arinc Aircraft Modification and Operations Center at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.
“The IPBE upgrade is an expanded secure local area computer network for the aircraft currently consisting of two live feeds: an ultra-high-frequency line-of-sight digital data feed used while operating over the U.S. and a commercial Inmarsat satellite feed for use when operating outside the U.S.,” explained Curt Rosenbery, IPBE team lead for the Navair PMA-271 program office. The upgrade provides the E-6B with a more robust network capability and also saves space and weight, he said. It removes some 5,000 pounds of backup equipment from the aircraft.
Navy E-6Bs conduct the Tacamo (“Take Charge and Move Out”) mission of providing command, control and communications between the National Command Authority (the President and secretary of Defense) and U.S. forces. The type also serves as a communications relay for ballistic missile submarines. To date, four E-6Bs have received the IPBE upgrade: one test aircraft located at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland and three aircraft assigned to the VQ-4 “Shadows” squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Navair said 12 more E-6Bs will receive the IPBE upgrade, with the last installation scheduled for completion in 2019.