Growler EW Upgrades On The Way

David A. Fulghum

NAS PATUXENT RIVER, Md. -- The brand-new EA-18G Growler has additional advances for airborne electronic attack (AEA) already on the way.

High on the list is the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ), which is to add even longer-range electronic attack, spoofing and advanced information and network attack options. With the new digital telecommunications used by opponents, U.S. planners have to be much more detailed about how electronic attack is conducted against networked, computer-controlled threats such as integrated air defenses.

Part of the new threat involves commercially available communications. GSM, Satphone, Bluetooth, 80211G and 80216 technologies are all built into one handset. It switches the user through all the options to find a usable route when being jammed. That type of connection technology is available and cheap.

New special-purpose electronic attack involves attacking more than external emissions. It goes after the digital instructions, called protocols, that run a network. It's electronic warfare against a computer network and not just a radar or radio signal. The goal is controlling communications more than preventing them. Nontraditional electronic attack involves producing long-lasting instead of temporary effects on enemy electronics.

Navy officials are a bit more circumspect and focused on incremental, near-term improvements.

"A much better jammer than the ALQ-99 [jamming pods that now equip both the Growler and Prowler] is part of the Growler roadmap," says Commander Frank Morley, program manager for the EA-18G. There are areas that could profit significantly from improvements "including the number and size of antennas and the small number of bands that can be attacked."

There also are issues with in-flight flexibility. Once the aircraft takes off, there is a limited, fixed configuration for electronic attack. NGJ is expected to offer more flexibility once airborne, and more band coverage that also can be adjusted in flight. ICAP III has already added information on board, networking capability and information from off-board sources to the older Prowler. NGJ is expected to allow even greater in-flight reactive capability.

"An EA-6B Prowler [in contrast] doesn't have a radar so it can defend itself only by running away," Morley says. "With the Growler's AESA radar, the crew can see what's going on. They know if there are fighters that have leaked through the front wall of the strike package. Situational awareness and the ability to defend themselves in an offensive manner is a first step that will make a difference. Now you don't have to put it in the back of the strike package with a section of fighters. [The Growler] may be able to hang around longer, planners may not have to put up as many assets to protect it and it may be able to make some of its own tactical decisions."

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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