Sandia LabNews

Labs develops B61 trainer

Labs-designed B61 weapons trainers being delivered to Air Force, NATO sites worldwide

Improved trainers designed at Sandia to simulate the B61 Mods 3, 4, and 10 family of nuclear weapons have begun arriving at US air bases and NATO sites around the world for use by flight-line ground crews in practice drills.

In recent years weapon loading and handling crews have been unable to complete exercises meant to evaluate their abilities to safely move, inspect, hang from and connect to an aircraft, arm, disarm, and return to storage the B61 3s, 4s, and 10s — versions of the B61 that are similar in appearance and function.

The primary reason, according to evaluators, was that the weapon trainers they were using were not similar-enough to real B61s to ensure the operations would occur smoothly and without error during a wartime scramble.

The previous trainers the military had been using for B61 3/4/10 exercises were originally designed to simulate, both mechanically and electronically, other versions of the B61 or were US Navy conventional bomb trainers retrofitted to look like B61s.

In 1997 the Air Force recommended that use of the old trainers be discontinued, noting that the makeshift mock-ups were hurting proficiency rather than helping.

In March 1998 the Air Force Nuclear and Counterproliferation Directorate (AF/XON) asked Sandia to create a new trainer that would mimic the B61 3, 4, and 10 and be unclassified.

By December 2001 the first six qualified B61-4 "Type 3E" trainers had rolled off the assembly line at DOE’s Kansas City Plant and were delivered to the Air Force.

It is the first loading-and-handling weapon trainer specifically designed to simulate the B61 Mods 3/4/10.

Three new B61 Type 3Es are being delivered to the Air Force each month. The entire production run of 51 units should be completed by March 2003.

The new trainers incorporate refurbished or scrapped parts from excess B61 trainers as well as new materials and designs.

In some ways, the new Type 3E design had to be better than a War Reserve (WR) weapon, says Sandia project leader Beth Connors (2111).

A trainer is going to get used thousands of times, so it must be robust enough to endure flight-line conditions — vibration, shock, temperature, humidity, and electromagnetic variability — repeatedly over many years, she says.

A new process to inexpensively coat the Type 3E with a tough polyester powder coating rather than paint won a 2000 DOE Defense Programs Award of Excellence, she says, just one example of the added durability and cost effectiveness of the design.

Also, because the Type 3E is going to be "hooked up to a multimillion-dollar aircraft, we need to make sure our trainer cannot cause a problem on that aircraft, mechanically or electrically," she says.

As part of the trainer’s aircraft compatibility and certification process, Sandia used F-111 and F-16 Aircraft Monitor and Control (AMAC) System simulators in the lab — essentially "aircraft in a box" — to simulate the electronic control system inputs of each type of aircraft and check the Type 3E’s responses.

Each trainer is tested against a real F-111-type AMAC package as it rolls off the assembly line to ensure the trainers are working as designed. (Although the Air Force no longer uses the F-111 aircraft, it is representative of several relevant aircraft systems.)

Sandia also designed a suitcase-sized version of the Type 3E trainer itself (its electronic guts in compact form) and visited eight different Air Force bases and NATO sites, hooking the box up to actual aircraft.

All the Type 3E’s system design, circuit design, software development, and systems integration was done at Sandia, says Beth.

An example: The Type 3E’s SA3960 ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit), designed and produced at Sandia’s Microelectronics Development Laboratory, was at the time the largest standard cell design fabricated at Sandia.

The project involved some 75 people currently or formerly in the following organizations (in numerical order): 10, 1733, 1734, 1735, 1737, 1811, 2000, 2100, 2102, 2105, 2111, 2112, 2113, 2115, 2116, 2331, 2332, 2613, 2662, 2912, 2913, 2991, 8205, 12125, 12316, 12323, 12326, 12335, 12336, and 14011.

"This project demonstrated the value of having such a vast collection of capabilities and resources under one roof," she says.

In addition, both NNSA/AL and US Air Force representatives played major roles in supporting the project in multiple areas, she says, including funding support, collection of assets, production, and logistics support.

"Everyone believed we were doing the right thing for the right reasons and wanted to see this project succeed," she says. "Their support was instrumental in the success of the project."

"It was very important to our customer to have a high-quality product in the field on time," says John Stichman, VP for Weapon Systems Div. 2000. "The team really came through. I am very proud of them."