February's top stories: North Korea nuclear tests and F-22 upgrades
1 March 2013 Liam Stoker
North Korea continued to defy the world's wishes and conducted a further nuclear test, while the USAF sanctioned upgrades to its troubled F-22 fighters. Airforce-technology.com wraps up February's key headlines.
Personnel from the US Air Force's 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron will be preparing to conduct operational testing on the first fully upgraded B-1B Lancer bomber aircraft, due to take place in late 2013.
The aircraft's new datalink capabilities will be validated by a Link-16 network constructed by USAF personnel, with upgrades to the aircraft also including a central integrated test system and a vertical situation display upgrade.
337th TES major Michael Jungquist said the IBS upgrades are designed to provide B-1 aircrews with greater situational awareness and a faster, more secure digital communication link.
"This will enable the aircrews to perform at an even more effective level and will make the B-1 cockpit more reliable and supportable," Jungquist added.
Boeing's Phantom Eye high-altitude long-endurance unmanned combat air vehicle completed taxi testing at Edwards Air Force Base, as the aircraft continued to inch towards its second test flight.
Testing saw the hydrogen-powered demonstrator aircraft travel aboard its launching cart system, which reached speeds of up to 40k.
The software and hardware upgrades, required to prepare the UCAV for high-altitude flights, have also been completed by the Phantom Eye team.
Boeing Phantom Eye programme manager Drew Mallow said: "We upgraded the autonomous flight systems and have achieved all the required test points in preparation for the next flight."
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea sparked international condemnation by conducting a third underground nuclear test, with the state confirming the test at its Punggye-ri nuclear test facility.
The test follows North Korea's successful launch of the Kwangmyongson-3 long-range rocket in December 2012, with the international community concerned that the state could launch a nuclear attack following the technology demonstration.
The test was decried as "deeply destabilising" by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, while the South Korean Government increased its military alert level as a precautionary measure.
The US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology's Subcommittee on Oversight announced its intention to examine the challenges of safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the National Airspace System.
Titled 'Operating Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the National Airspace System: Assessing Research and Development Efforts to Ensure Safety', the hearing will also evaluate federal research and development (R&D) efforts required to ensure safe and efficient operation of UAS in the NAS.
The hearing is scheduled to be attended by the representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Nasa and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
US Congress had authorised the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 early last year to facilitate UAS integration into civilian airspace applications.
Lockheed Martin received an indefinite-delivery, indefinite quantity $6.9bn contract from the US Department of Defense to upgrade the USAF's fleet of F-22 Raptor aircraft.
The F-22 has been dogged by concerns regarding pilot safety since being declared operational in December 2005, with the aircraft's oxygen system blamed for hypoxia-like symptoms in pilots.
Lockheed Martin spokesman BJ Boling was quoted by Defense News as saying: "Lockheed Martin looks forward to working with the air force to ensure the F-22 maintains air dominance for decades to come with capability upgrades like advanced weapons, multispectral sensors, advanced networking technology and advanced anti-jamming."
Having completed taxiing tests earlier in the month, Boeing conducted a second test flight of its Phantom Eye UCAV, demonstrating its long-range endurance capabilities.
During testing, the liquid hydrogen-powered UCAV was able to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations at higher-altitudes for up to four days without refuelling.
Climbing above an altitude of 8,000ft, the UCAV stayed airborne for 66 minutes at a cruising speed of 62k before landing, eventually bettering the results of its initial test flight.
Bidding troubles will not hold back the US Air Force's combat rescue helicopter programme, while Israel validated enhancements to its Iron Dome missile defence system.