December 2004/January 2005
Volume 03, Issue 8
|Integrated Defense Systems|
New buzz in the Hornet family
EA-18G looks like the F/A-18F, but it has a different mission: airborne electronic attack
BY KATHLEEN COOK
From 10,000 feet, the EA-18G looks remarkably like its cousin, the F/A-18F. But this member of the Hornet family has a different kind of sting. The "G," as it's called, will perform the critical airborne electronic attack mission for the U.S. Navy's tactical aircraft fleet, jamming enemy radars and communications to allow fighter and attack aircraft like the Super Hornet to fly into enemy airspace virtually undetected.
The "G," based on the battle-proven F/A-18F airframe, will accomplish this using a variety of electronic jammers in conjunction with sensitive radar and communication sensors, some of which are currently on or being developed for the EA-6B Prowler, the Navy's current airborne electronic attack platform.
ALQ-99 jamming pods, like those in use on the Prowler, will emit signals to block or confuse enemy radar and communications. The "G" also will incorporate the EA-6B's forthcoming Improved Capability III electronics system to detect and locate radar and communication threats.
The EA-18G offers features that "will take the airborne electronic attack mission to the next level," said Capt. Mark Darrah, Naval Air Systems Command Deputy Program Manager for the EA-18G program (see box at right for more information).
"It will incorporate the Electronic Attack subsystem upgrades we have already made and continue to develop for the EA-6B, and combine those advances with the proven value of the F/A-18F airframe, bringing a capability to the fleet that we have never seem before," Darrah said. "By integrating these very capable systems we have provided a 'best value' approach for remaining ahead of the airborne electronic attack threat our warfighters face now and in the future."
Northrop Grumman, the EA-18G electronic attack system provider, is developing the next-generation version of the EA-6B's Improved Capability III selective-reactive electronic attack system, said Patricia McMahon, Electronic Warfare Programs vice president for Northrop Grumman's Airborne Early Warning and Electronic Warfare Systems business unit in Bethpage, N.Y. Selective-reactive jamming allows the system to focus its jamming power more effectively on specific radar frequencies. This derivative of the powerful, agile Improved Capability III system, which is in low rate initial production for the EA-6B Prowler, "will reinforce the EA-18G's role as an integral part of Sea Power 21, the Navy's transformational force structure," McMahon said.
Thanks to advancements in computers and advantages the airframe brings, the EA-18G will be able to do much more with less. The "G" requires only one pilot and one electronic counter-measures officer to accomplish the same mission as an EA-6B with one pilot and three electronic countermeasures officers. Boeing developed and validated its two-person crew concept with the assistance of more than 500 U.S. Navy fleet aviators who flew in a Boeing EA-18G simulator in St. Louis for several years prior to program start.
The key role airborne electronic attack plays in U.S. military strategy and execution has become more evident in the last decade, according to experts, and the "G" will provide better response to evolving air defense system threats. The Prowler originally was designed to target individual layers of air defense systems (such as early warning, acquisition and ground-control intercept radars) to clear a path for strike aircraft. However, the earlier systems the Prowler was designed to control have given way to a variety of advanced, integrated systems. These use the latest computer and communications technologies to present their opponents with a challenging mix of threats, communications links and adaptable tactics.
Although the EA-18G won't join the Navy's fleet until 2009, Boeing already has conducted several tests on the airframe, including wind tunnel trials and electromagnetic interference checks. These evaluated aircraft handling in the airborne electronic attack configuration and noise and vibration levels in the under-wing environment of the ALQ-99 pods. Anechoic (echo-free) chamber tests in 2002 verified the electromagnetic environment created by the jamming pods would not interfere with the EA-18G's onboard systems and avionics. Perhaps most important have been flight tests Boeing conducted using F/A-18F1, a demonstrator aircraft Boeing leases from the government.
"We cannot underestimate the importance of this early work completed by our industry partners," Darrah said. "It has enabled us to streamline our test plans to be much more efficient and meet a robust timeline for fielding the EA-18G capability."
This extensive testing, including the work with Navy electronic countermeasures officers in the simulator, was made possible by one of the greatest advantages the "G" has: It essentially is an F/A-18F. When production of the operational EA-18G aircraft begins, Boeing will build it on the same production line and at the same time as single-seat F/A-18Es and two-seat F/A-18Fs. The program will be able to take advantage of the same tooling, manufacturing practices and expert Boeing workforce that have been delivering Super Hornets on or ahead of schedule, on or below budget, and with unprecedented quality.
The program already is reaping the benefits. Under the current system development and demonstration contract, Boeing will produce two aircraft for flight testing. Those first two flight-test aircraft will also be made on the E/F assembly line.
When the first bulkhead was loaded into tooling at Boeing facilities during an Oct. 22 ceremony in St. Louis, the program was already ahead of schedule and 10 percent below budget, and the aircraft was 200 pounds (91 kilograms) underweight-an achievement Boeing Integrated Defense Systems President Jim Albaugh called "unheard of. It's a real tribute to the integrated team."
The Prowler, a four-crew aircraft first deployed in 1972, is nearing the end of its service life. The EA-18G will begin replacing it in the fleet by 2009.
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