Fighting in the electromagnetic spectrum


An MV-22B Osprey assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 (VMM-264) ‘Black Knights’ loaded with an ALQ-231(V)3 Intrepid Tiger II electronic warfare pod during a mission flown from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1).
Cpl John Hamilton Jr/US Marine Corps
Sunset for US Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, prior to their final trans-Atlantic ferry flight back home to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.
Senior Airman Gracie flee/US Air Force

SINCE 1940, achieving control of the air has required control of the electromagnetic spectrum, as Hitler’s Luftwafte found out over Britain, to its everlasting sorrow. Since then, electronic warfare (EW) has shaped the results of air combat. No one needed to be persuaded of the importance of EW at the annual convention of the Association of Old Crows, the organization of EW professionals (the crow nickname dates back to World War Two) at their annual convention, held this year in Washington DC on November 27-29. How the use of electromagnetic spectrum will affect operations tomorrow and in the future was the subject of those speaking at this meeting, which included those from government, industry, US and allied armed forces.

Fighting for the spectrum Air Force General Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked about going beyond using standard EW hardware to fight for control of the electromagnetic spectrum. He said: “Jammers are emitters. Emitters are targets”. Marine Corps Major General Michael Groen, Director for Intelligence said: “EW is not about barrage jamming anymore.

It’s about precision effects.” He said the Marine Corps sees electronic warfare as foundational to future joint warfare, and is dealing with a range of changes, most notably the sunset of the Marines’ Grumman EA-6B Prowler, which completed its last operational deployment in early November when Marine Tactical Electronic Attack Squadron 2 (VMAQ- 2) ‘Death Jesters’ returned from Al Udeid in Qatar. He said: “The EA-6B was operated largely in support of large naval task forces, now we are looking at what we can do with a large MAGTF [Marine Air-Ground Task Force]. We focused on the tactical edge first”.

Enabling precision effects throughout the electromagnetic spectrum and retaining the ability to jam threat emitters is at the heart of current American EW programmes.

The Raytheon ALQ-249(V)1 Next Generation Jammer Mid-Band (NGJMB) pod will start flight-testing in 2019, with live fire testing - with the pod radiating in flight - the following year. Since 2017, its development has become a multinational programme, with Australia participating. It will be carried alongside - not replace - the long-serving ALQ-99 pod as the Boeing EA-18G Growler’s main armament. In addition to jammer capability, it provides the Growler with an enhanced electronic attack (EA) capability. Initial operational capability is scheduled for 2022.

On October 25, the Navy moved out to achieve the second iteration of the NGJ programme, with $35 million contracts being issued to both Northrop Grumman and L3 Technologies for airborne wideband low radio frequency band jamming application in support of the NGJ Low Band Increment 2 programme. The Navy dropped Raytheon, prime contractor for NGJ Increment 1, from consideration for Increment 2.

The Army is developing a comparable pod, combining EW and EA attack capabilities, intended for use by its General Atomics MQ-1 Grey Eagle unmanned air vehicles.

The Multi-Function Electronic Warfare Air pod may be modified for use by a range of aircraft, including helicopters. It will start testing in 2019.

New electronic warfare platform Ellen Lord, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, called the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II a “critical warfighting capability for us and international partners and allies”. She said: “The F-35 will make fourthgeneration aircraft much better, due to its capability for taking in all types of data. Having incredible databases, it is able to see first, shoot first. Electronic warfare is essential to the F-35, making sure we are survivable in A2AD [anti-access area denial] environments that are becoming more and more prevalent. Data is critical to the F-35, how we ingest, process and act on it.”

The F-35’s BAE Systems ASQ 239 electronic warfare suite is highly capable for both attack and defence.

“It is fully integrated with threat detection and warning, targeting and self-protection. The F-35 depends on its electronic warfare capability to avoid radar detection”, she said, stressing that rather than its stealth design, “we focus on adversary radar advances … Looking at the F-35, we are developing capabilities that will be used to inform other aircraft.”

Retired US Air Force General Chris Bogdan, who was in charge of the F-35 programme from 2012 to 2017 sees the F-35 as designed to defeat the kill chain at many different points: find, fix, target and shoot. He said: “It has low-observable signatures: stealth, radar, infrared, and acoustics. Electronic warfare capabilities make it difficult to track and target; 360-degree situational awareness makes it difficult to hit with a kinetic weapon, while attacking the kill chain makes the F-35 survivable. The collection and fusion of multisource data on-board and off-board creates unprecedented situational awareness. It is as good an ISR platform as it is a fighter, although we have not yet figured out how to get this exquisite picture off the aircraft and into the hands of other warfighters.”

Air Force Colonel Charles McElvaine said: “Interoperability is a huge challenge even in our own military, even between two US Air Force aircraft.” But it is a challenge that has to be met. US Army Colonel Mark Dotson, Capability Manager for Electronic Warfare at TRADOC, the US Army Training And Doctrine Command said: “I do zero operations that are American-only. I have to be able to share.”

US commanders may only be aware of their own capabilities in areas such as electronic warfare or electronic attack. Yet coalition partners can also be highly effective in these areas, with niche capabilities that have been tailored to meet their specific operational needs but which the US may not be familiar with. “Commanders ask to use coalition electronic attack or electronic warfare capabilities when they know it is available,” said Colonel McElvaine.