B-2 Spirit technology consists of more than its unique shape. There are underlying software and hardware advancements that enable long-range low-observable penetrating nuclear capability delivery around the world. The B-2 system continues to improve and modernize as international threats advance.
A new software factory using the Department of Defense reference design has pushed the aircraft’s evolution further forward. Known as the “Spirit Realm” by its creators at the B-2 Weapons Systems Support Center of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and their partners at Northrop Grumman, the system has already yielded dramatic improvements which have benefited the B-2 operational fleet.
The B-2 Software Maintenance and Innovation Team with the B-2 System Program Office at AFLCMC, responsible for the strategy, sustainment and innovative improvement of software development and capability integration, supports the delivery of the B-2 Spirit’s operational requirements. Capt. Joel Graley, the lead for the team, explained his team’s involvement in the development.
“We have implemented an as-code infrastructure where our development and test teams can work with maximum efficiency and security,” Graley said. “Through the software factory’s tools and infrastructure, automated steps take the code from the beginning in development all the way through testing and eventually to release.”
The Spirit Realm B-2 Software Factory has four goals. The first is to reduce flight test risks and timelines through high-fidelity ground testing. The second is to reduce flight test burdens by capturing additional test points via targeted upgrades. The third is to increase Integrated Functional Capability quality through high-frequency automated testing. Lastly and most importantly, to enable war-winning capability upgrades to the B-2 Spirit.
“By utilizing Department of Defense reference designs coupled with real B-2 hardware, enabled by comprehensive process changes across government, contractor and organic teams, we were able to not only meet, but to exceed our four goals,” said Col. Cory Brown, B-2 system program manager at AFLCMC.
Historically, the development and testing of code before rollout could take anywhere from 18 to 24 months. Even a single change in a line of code meant that the entire body of lines had to be retested. This manual testing locked down all content. If there were any errors found in testing, of which there were plenty, it would go back to the software developer for fixing, then be retested. All these human-driven features were resulting in extra time, energy and resources being taken away from other projects.
“After the development and implementation of the Spirit Realm, B-2 software is now developed, tested and integrated using modern DevSecOps and Scaled Agile principles and a single software baseline,” Graley said. “This approach enables the fielding of the highest priority capabilities at an unprecedented pace and ensures the B-2 can rapidly field new capabilities to counter emerging threats.”
With the development of the Spirit Realm by Graley’s team at the WSSC, this new software factory has cut software upgrade timelines from two years to three months. The number of software defects found during regression testing has plummeted to almost zero. With innumerable hours saved on production, the WSSC team has averted more than $18 million in annual flight test costs.
Overall, the Spirit Realm has yielded more tests with fewer defects, which in turn results in having better quality coding, which begets better software. These higher-quality factors result in overall better operational capability for the B-2 fleet.
“The bottom line is, the Spirit Realm and the B-2 labs are positioning to develop software more rapidly, enabling us to deploy capability in weeks versus years,” said Lt. Col. Benjamin Elton, B-2 IFC branch chief at AFLCMC.
It is vital that teams such as these develop innovations like the Spirit Realm, providing the Air Force with continued providing war-winning capabilities at the speed of relevance.
“The software factory has applicability today because it adds baked in security, repeatability, and quality for our software development, capability integration, and deployment. That has impacts to the war fighter now,” Graley said. “In the near future, the software factory, combined with other aircraft modernization efforts, will enable the capability to deploy software updates to B-2s flying operational missions anywhere in the world. That is a game-changer in the next fight.”
Since the B-2 Spirit’s first flight July 17, 1989, the bomber has continued to represent major milestones in the U.S. bomber modernization program. With new operational impacts being delivered to the warfighter every day, the B-2 fleet is expected to stay relevant for years to come.
“We are able to bring capabilities to the war-fighter faster than ever before,” said Brown. “The Spirit Realm B-2 Software Factory aligns with national security strategy shifts in alliance with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. (CQ) Brown’s dictum and Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall’s operational imperatives at the strategic level. We are always finding ways to ask hard questions, do hard things and overall ensure that America remains the beacon of hope and freedom for the world.”