With a $171.6 million contract in hand for low-rate preliminary manufacturing of the U.S. Navy’s Subsequent Technology Jammer Mid-Band (NGJ-MB), Raytheon can go ahead with supplying the brand new digital jamming pods for the Navy’s EA-18G Growler digital assault plane. With them, a transfer to “good jamming” will start, however the NGJ’s biggest asset could also be dependability.
“In case you flip it on, it’s going to return on. It’s going to level the place it must level and it’s going to be on-frequency,” says Ernie Winston, Raytheon’s affiliate director for Digital Warfare Programs and a former Growler digital warfare officer.
That form of fundamental performance has been an issue for the AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System that presently equips the EA-18G and beforehand the EA-6B Prowler in variations stretching again to the Nineteen Seventies. EA-18Gs carry three AN/ALQ-99 pods in each excessive and low-band configurations. In keeping with the Authorities Accountability Workplace (GAO), they’ve suffered frequent failures over the past decade.
Some, together with failures of the pods’ Constructed-In Take a look at system, have precipitated crew to fly missions with undetected faults. The ALQ-99 additionally reportedly interferes with the Growler’s AESA radar.
“You by no means knew which ALQ-99 pod wasn’t going to work,” Winston says, recalling his Growler EWO expertise. That required launching extra plane for redundancy in case a number of pod failures disabled a specific Growler. Reliability considerations additionally confine ALQ-99 outfitted EA-18Gs to comparatively customary positions when escorting a strike power. The extra highly effective, digitally agile NGJ pods ought to alleviate such points.
“Now you’re going to have the ability to put the Growlers wherever they have to be and never have to fret about jamming degradation,” Winston provides.
The NGJ-MB, often known as the AN/ALQ-249, has been in improvement since roughly 2010, a part of the three-pronged EW enchancment program for the Tremendous Hornet-based Growler.
It replaces the high-band ALQ-99 pods that Growlers carry below every wing with one other pair of pods. An extra NGJ Low Band pod that will probably be carried beneath the fuselage on the Growler’s centerline can also be in improvement by L3Harris Applied sciences. Finally, a high-band NGJ element may even be added.
However the mid-band pods are the primary that can truly grasp on a Growler. The Navy has procured three pod units (every set contains two pods) and extra spares for an operational take a look at program which ought to wrap up by 2024, resulting in full-rate manufacturing. The Navy in the end plans to purchase 135 pod units.
Raytheon gained’t share the frequency vary that the MB pods cowl however it’s considered someplace within the 2GHz to 6GHz vary which encompasses many of the radar, fireplace management and communications techniques that digital assault plane can be trying to jam to allow a strike power to get to its goal.
The ALQ-99 system reportedly put out most energy (known as Efficient Isotropic Radiated Energy, EIRP) someplace round 6.8 kilowatts in up to date variations. With its scanned array antenna, digital steering, processing and different advances ALQ-249 will probably be considerably extra highly effective. How a lot?
In keeping with Raytheon’s Winston, “An order of magnitude is an understatement.”
That will additionally imply their standoff jamming vary is twice that of ALQ-99 or higher. The brand new pods have self-contained energy in accordance with experiences to permit most EIRP which exceeds the Growler’s personal energy era capability.
As a result of the pod is a self-powered unit, Raytheon says it might be “built-in into virtually any plane that has the power to hold exterior shops.” That will embrace unmanned plane past the jammer-carrying Miniature Air Launched Decoys (MALD-J) drones that Growlers already work with.
NGJ-MB can also be “good.” It might jam extra radars concurrently than ALQ-99, leaping from one frequency to the subsequent in much less time than an adversary radar’s look-through cycle. It might additionally have interaction two or extra targets on the identical time with out freely giving its presence.
The power to concurrently observe/prosecute extra targets than earlier than will allow Growler EWOs to “surgically jam the frequencies they need,” Winston says with out blanketing total frequency blocks, probably interfering with pleasant emitters.
Among the many frequencies NGJ-MB might be able to jam or spoof are these carrying 5G communications/information. Declining particular touch upon 5G, Winston does permit that, “In case you can describe a waveform mathematically, NGJ can transmit it.”
It might additionally facilitate information sharing in a method that its predecessor can’t, utilizing Hyperlink-16 and different information/communications hyperlinks to share threats with different digital assault plane and with strike platforms and fighters.
“You’re in a position to ship jam requests to different Growlers and share what these assignments are going to be,” Winston affirms.
Upgrading NGJ-MB pod software program/performance in-flight just isn’t out of the query. The opportunity of sending dwell software program updates to airborne EA-18s alongside the traces of Air Power experiments performed with the U-2 final October is actual. Raytheon confirms that, “Creating non-traditional makes use of of the pod as a excessive powered communication system, for instance, may assist the transmission of those updates if the companies determined to pursue these capabilities.”
Enabling such improvement is the modular, open-architecture design of the ALQ-249 pods which mustn’t solely permit for steady programmatic updating by means of their lifecycle however permit Raytheon to “be responsive” because the complimentary low band and excessive band increments being designed by different contractors come on-line.
“That ought to be fairly easy, Annabel Flores, Raytheon vp for Digital Warfare Programs maintains. “We will be reactive with software-based options and keep related as threats and know-how develop. We predict there’s nonetheless room for progress [for NGJ-MB] and that’s a part of the system’s design.”
Much less easy is the impact of including the brand new pods to a Growler. A 2018 GAO report confirmed that the EA-18G’s fight vary decreases when new NGJ-MB pods are held on the wing stations rather than the prevailing ALQ-99 pods. They produce extra drag the Navy concluded.
It added that NGJ-MB’s self contained energy era (two pairs of doorways, one set on all sides of the pod, open to permit air in to drive a ram-air turbine when the jammers are operating) might produce much more drag. If the jammers are energetic for prolonged durations, this may occasionally additional cut back the Growler’s fight radius.
For the reason that pods, as with ALQ-99, discuss to one another by means of and take path from the Growler’s onboard mission system, questions in regards to the vulnerability of the EA-18’s personal software program spine have arisen. As with the F-35, the mission information information it depends on to determine, classify and repair risk emitters will be compromised or fail to speak with the NGJ.
Raytheon’s Winston says the danger is offset by the Growler EWO’s potential to work round defects within the automated system manually.
“The NGJ was designed to be versatile and work with an operator within the cockpit to generate jamming assignments on the fly. There’s a variety of automation however the EWO nonetheless has the power to generate a waveform when he sees a goal.”
Slightly-known Navy program referred to as REAM (Reactive Digital Assault Measures) might assist as properly. REAM software program would apply machine studying to start assessing an unrecognized radar/emitter’s intent and common traits.
“The system will have the ability to determine a jamming approach that may be efficient in opposition to a generic fireplace management radar and replace its project because it reacts to what the radar is doing,” Winston explains. REAM might be fielded by 2024.
By that point a rising group of Growler EWOs could have gained preliminary familiarity with NGJ-MB. If it proves as persistently mission-ready as Raytheon claims, it would permit EWOs to learn the way its energy and agility have an effect on adversary radars, how adversary operators react to it, and the way they’ll exploit the capabilities of the pods.
“They’ll start to suppose, ‘Wouldn’t it nice if NJG may do X, Y or Z,” Winston says.