The upgraded B-1 has reached initial operating capability, thanks to one squadron working on a tight timeline. The 567th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Tinker AFB, Okla., finished the installation of the new Integrated Battle Station on 15 B-1s, one quarter of the fleet, on Dec. 15, two weeks before the deadline, according to a Tinker release. The $980 million upgrades, which aim to extend the service life of the B-1s through 2040, include the Fully Integrated Data Link, the Vertical Situation Display Upgrade, and the Central Integrated Test System. “B-1 aircrews call this a game changer,” said Maj. Derick Wolf, the program manager for the upgrade, in the release. “The modification improves situational awareness, and battlefield communication, reduces crew workload, and supports evolving network centric warfare.” The Air Force last month pulled all B-1s from the US Central Command area of operations for the first time since 2001 so the rest of the fleet could receive the modifications.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.