USAF/USN Airborne Electronic Attack: F-22, F-35, EC-130, EA-18G, F/A-18E/F, B-52 and UCAS
1/25/2007 1:07:33 AM
|USAF's roadmap, years in the making, has collapsed. The service is struggling to find a new course.
Where Next With Electronic Attack?
By John A. Tirpak, Executive Editor
On the Pentagon?s so-called ?stoplight? briefing slides?where red is bad, yellow is fair, and green is good?many aspects of the airborne electronic attack mission are a deep, deep red.
The AEA mission?after a decade of turmoil in which plans have been started, stopped, restarted, and halted again?is still being sorted out. In the meantime, the threat has gotten worse. The world has seen a proliferation of new integrated air defense systems, such as Russia?s S-400, with its unprecedented detection and missile ranges and better processing.
In many cases, such systems have wound up in the hands of America?s biggest adversaries.
The purpose of AEA systems is to disrupt or blind enemy air defenses, mainly by pounding them with intense bursts of radar energy. An adversary?s radar screen is bathed in electronic noise and blips that prevent him from knowing for sure which ones are US aircraft and which ones are electronic artifacts or decoys.
Stealth aircraft have been able to slip past adversary radars unseen. However, nonstealthy ?legacy? aircraft have to be protected by jamming. Moreover, against the newer threat systems, even stealth aircraft will need protection, Air Force and Navy experts agree.
In August, the Air Force was struggling to reconstruct its AEA plans, which were undone late last year by budget and policy decisions. The Air Force canceled its central AEA program, the B-52 Standoff Jammer, because costs had grown and the program was no longer affordable.
In addition, the Air Force?s share of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System was terminated by top Pentagon leadership, and what was left was given over to the Navy. The Air Force had planned to use J-UCAS for a variety of roles, one of them as a radar jammer loitering directly over enemy air defenses. (See ?Washington Watch,? March, p. 12.)
All Fall Down
It is no exaggeration to say that the Air Force AEA roadmap, which was years in the making, virtually collapsed.
After the cuts, Air Force planners went to work almost immediately, trying to rebuild the AEA program and find alternate solutions. However, by mid-August, they had not yet settled on a final workable scheme.
Moreover, they didn?t have their new plan ready in time for inclusion in USAF?s Fiscal 2008 program objective memorandum, the requirements and resources plan that serves as the basis for the next budget request, which was due to the Office of the Secretary of Defense Aug. 15.
Missing that deadline threatens to delay any new start efforts until Fiscal 2009 or later.
Pressure was mounting on the Air Force to define its plan because a top-level Pentagon study that was due in September was supposed to identify options for the joint AEA ?system of systems.? The Air Force wanted to have its own plan in place, rationalized against its other requirements, rather than possibly be handed one from higher up. That might require drastic changes elsewhere in the overall USAF budget.
The Air Force faces a hard deadline for bringing on new operational AEA capability. Since 1999, it has been sharing the Navy?s four-seat EA-6B Prowler escort jammer aircraft, but the Prowler fleet begins retiring in 2009, to be replaced by the Navy?s new escort jammer, the EA-18G Growler, a variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet. The Growler has only two seats and is slated to completely replace the EA-6B in 2012.
For some time, plans have called for USAF by then to be out of the Navy?s program and fielding its own system.
The airborne electronic attack business comprises five primary disciplines, each taking the action progressively closer to the target.
The first is standoff jamming. Aircraft loiter outside the range of enemy missiles while sending out powerful waves of long-bandwidth energy at an entire region of enemy territory.
Second comes the use of escort jammers. They go in closer, flying alongside or near strike aircraft during their journey in hostile airspace. These fighter-type aircraft are equipped with pods that generate intense energy to saturate enemy radar receivers and blind them to the exact whereabouts of the US strikers.
Third, the attack aircraft themselves would use either external pods or internal electronic countermeasures systems to generate self-protection jamming as they near the target. New active electronically scanned array radars, or AESAs, have great power and huge potential to do some jamming and precisely identify and locate threat radars. Towed decoys also play in the self-protection ring.
Fourth, ?stand-in? AEA comprises any systems designed to defeat enemy radars at practically point-blank range. Flying decoys and drones fit in this mission, which is considered too risky for manned aircraft.
Based on the 2001 analysis of alternatives, the last is