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The Bone's latest weapon? Text messages

They won't be sending and receiving the same kind of pidgin messages you might see on your cellie ("where u at!?") but the crews of the Air Force's B-1B Lancers will soon be texting.

Improved workstations, communications links and other upgrades are part of the latest block of improvements the Air Force is adding to its B-1s, the service said. Even though it apparently will not include new ordnance for the bomb bay -- yet -- the upgrade could well make the Bone even deadlier.

Per the Air Force:

Sustainment-Block 16 upgrades include a fully integrated data link in the aft station and vertical situation display upgrade in the front station as well as updates to navigation, radar and diagnostic systems. "The B-1 has never seen this many upgrades in one block," said Maj. Thomas Bryant, the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron assistant director of operations. "These upgrades will give us an entirely new aircraft; this is a game changer."

The aft crew station will now receive five new color displays, all capable of providing moving maps and data link integration. Weapon systems officers will receive full "QWERTY" keyboards and new controllers to interface with the integrated battle station software.

Furthermore, a new MIDS LVT-1 radio, using integrated battle station capabilities, brings the B-1 into the Link-16 network, allowing the B-1 to send and receive text messages, imagery and mission assignments.

Unlike current messaging capabilities, fully integrated data link assignments will interface directly with the aircraft, allowing combat commanders the capability to send target sets directly to weapons onboard the B-1.

"The new data link capability is huge for the B-1," Bryant said. "Command and control assets will have the ability to send us targets electronically, automatically linking into our system rather than manually entering the coordinates."

Sounds pretty convenient for the bombers' crews, and their pilots and co-pilots also will get upgraded displays and other refinements up in front, the Air Force says.

But it and its sibling services still have a long way to go before they achieve the kind of comprehensive integration that Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert talked about last month. In the world of Air-Sea Battle -- so we understand for now -- a B-1 would have to be able to share the operational picture of, say, a distant Navy E-2 Hawkeye early warning aircraft, or it might have to be able to see what a Marine Corps F-35B is seeing hundreds of miles in the other direction.

The B-1s' current upgrades are a start, but even Schwartz and Greenert admit they've got a long way to go before the real-world capabilities of their fleets match their vision for the future.

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