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Electronic Warfare Aircraft


Role: Electronic warfare (EW) represents a recent innovation and entirely new face of warfare beyond the traditional land, air, and sea domains. As combat operations become increasingly immersed in an electromagnetic environment and dependent on electronic information, the ability to confuse or misinform an enemy’s intelligence-gathering are essential to prevailing in a conflict. EW as a distinct category is increasingly fading as many fighters are equipped with sophisticated avionics suites. For example, the fighter aircraft F-22 Raptor contains an electronics intelligence (ELINT) system comparable to the RC-135, a Boeing Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), and electronic attack capabilities.

EW aircraft are used to interfere with an enemy combatant’s electronic systems, for example silencing an enemy aircraft’s radio during air-to-air combat such that it is unable to communicate with other aircraft. EW systems use focused or directed energy (DE), such as radio waves or laser light, to degrade an opponent’s detection electronics (including radar, sonar, infrared, and lasers). On aircraft, jamming systems can be attached to pods on the aircraft or built into the airframe. EW aircraft are typically built solely for this purpose and are usually less heavily armed than other combat vehicles. In this supportive role, EW aircraft have a variety of electronic countermeasures at their disposal. Defensive countermeasures include creating multiple decoy targets on the enemy’s systems and making the enemy’s target display move erratically. Offensive countermeasures obstruct information transmission on the opponent’s systems. Agile radars and frequency-hopping radios are common technologies used to protect against EW.

“Jamming” can be done on both radio and radar frequencies. Radio jamming decreases the signal-to-noise ratio to prevent communications. This can be done by using a transmitter to override the signals on enemy receivers and producing alternate noise instead. “Obvious” jamming puts audible noises on enemy systems – including distorted music, random noises, pulses, stepped tones, and so on. “Subtle” jamming prevents the reception of any sound at all. On radar frequencies, jamming can be either mechanical or electronic. Mechanical jamming uses reflective technology to bounce back an enemy’s radar signals, creating false targets. Devices include chaff – metallic strips which reflect different frequencies (usually aluminum-coated glass fibers), corner reflectors – three dimensional reflecting objects, and decoys – maneuverable objects independent of the aircraft which present as targets to an opponent’s radar. Electronic jamming transmits highly concentrated energy to create overload (noise jamming) or false signals (repeater jamming).

Models in Service:

United States Air Force (USAF), United States Navy (USN)

EC-130H Compass Call USAF EC-130H 14 Lockheed Martin First deployed during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989, the Compass Call is essential in disrupting counter-attacks and enemy’s defensive measures. Along with the EA-18G Growler and the F-16CJ Fighting Falcon, the Compass Call forms the USAF’s triad of electronic warfare capability. The aircraft’s primary command and control warfare system is developed by BAE Systems. In 2014, the Compass Call was given a Baseline-2 enhancement to improve its precision and electronic attack range. Detailed information on the aircraft’s capabilities are classified.
EC-130J Commando Solo III USAF EC-130J 3 Lockheed Martin Based on the C-130 transport plane, the Commando Solo is an electronic support aircraft dedicated to psychological operations (PSYOPS), or conducting military information support operations (MISO). Equipped with an analog broadcasting system, the Commando Solo offers public information and propaganda in the form of radio (AM, FM, HF) and on television frequencies. For example, during the 1999 war in Kosovo, the EC-130J broadcasted anti-ethnic cleansing messages and during the 2011 Libyan air strikes, the aircraft transmitted messages to Libyan ship operators, telling them to go home to their families. Commando Solo is also used in humanitarian missions, for example during the 2010 Haiti earthquake the aircraft announced the locations of food and water repositories.
EC-130SJ 4
EA-6B Prowler USN     Northrop Grumman Currently being phased out in favor of the Growler, the Prowler is a Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) operator using radar jamming and other communications disruptions to support ground troops or strike forces. After upgrading its electronics suite under the Improved Capability (ICAP) III program, the Prowler is equipped with five ALQ-99 jamming pods each with Continuous Wave (CW) transmitters, an AN/ALQ-218 EW receiver, a LR700 reactive jammer, HARMs (high-speed anti-radiation missiles), a Link 16 datalink and other non-kinetic disabling features. In 1994, the Prowler was designated as the primary tactical EW vehicle for the U.S. military.
EA-18G Growler USN EA-18G 114 Boeing Derived from the F/A-18F Super Hornet Block II, the Growler will be the sole dedicated EW aircraft in the military when the Prowler completes retirement. The growlers electronic attack capabilities include: up to five AN/ALQ-99 jamming pods, AN/ALQ-218(V)2 receivers on the wingtips, and a AN/ALQ-227 countermeasures system which covers the full spectrum of surface-to-air threats and dismantles enemy defenses such as radar-hopping technology. The aircraft can also be loaded with AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missiles, and AGM-154 joint stand-off weapons. With both strike and EA capabilities, the Growler can be used in surveillance-only missions, stand-off jamming and escort jamming missions, or in strikes.
EP-3 ARIES II USN EP-3E 11 Lockheed Martin Based on the maritime patrol aircraft P-3 Orion, the ARIES (Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System) is a SIGINT reconnaissance aircraft. A program to update the system, the EP-X, was cancelled in 2010 and the ARIES will likely be phased out in favor of unmanned aerial reconnaissance aircraft.

Current Events:

The EA-18G Growler Aircraft is replacing the EA-6B Prowler. USN has ordered 135 units through fiscal year 2014 with a total worth of $12.9 billion over the next five years. The Growler specializes in detecting, identifying, locating, and suppressing enemy air defenses and communications.

In July of 2013, Raytheon Company was chosen by the U.S. Navy as the winner of their Next Generation Jammer program – a competition to find a replacement for its decades-old AN/ALQ-99 jamming system on the EA-18G Growler. The ALQ-99 debuted in 1971 and has fallen short of quickly evolving technological. The existing system is unable to cover all necessary frequencies, radiate the power to jam remote emitters, address simultaneous threats, or limit its spectral reach to avoid inadvertently jamming friendly electronic systems. The U.S. Navy has taken the lead in jamming technology whereas the other branches have wagered on alternate technologies or have not made EW a top priority. The U.S. Air Force relies mostly on stealth (low-observable) technologies, the U.S. Army’s canceled its airborne-sensor program, and the Marine Corps was unable to pay for jammer-modifications on their fighters.