US Navy: ALQ-99 pods no match for “today’s” threat

Here’s a pleasant thought: the core of the US military’s airborne electronic attack weapons are useless against Russian S-400 integrated air defense systems currently for sale on the export market.

In unusually blunt language for an unclassified source, a US Navy document soliciting sources for a next generation jammer (NGJ) dismisses the current system as out-classed.

“The aging ALQ-99 [tactical jamming system] lacks the capability to match today’s complex integrated air defense, communication, data link and non-traditional radio frequency (RF) threats,” says the document, dated 15 September.

That assessment goes one giant step farther than the statement I got in February last year.  I had asked NGJ program manager Capt Steven Kochman to explain how NGJ was suddenly making progress after years of inaction. Kochman replied that a classified briefing to then-deputy secretary of defense Gordon England served to reverse the program’s fortunes. The contents of the briefing are not public knowledge, but Kochman only allowed that the power of new surface to air radars stretch the limits of the ALQ-99′s transmit range. Kochman didn’t say that the ALQ-99 is already out-matched by the radars that can alert surface to air missiles, such as the SA-22, to the presence of incoming warplanes.

(Photo: US Navy)


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20 Responses to US Navy: ALQ-99 pods no match for “today’s” threat

  1. ELP 18 September, 2009 at 5:53 am #

    The Navy has known this since around 2002-3.

  2. Moose 18 September, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    Not all that surprising, as Information Age technologies go the ALQ-99 is fairly ancient. Unfortunately, the previous Administration and Congress didn’t see fit to move forward with anew jammer DURING EA-18 development, so now ALQ-99 is still all we have. Hope we have plenty of ALE-50s in the meantime.

  3. SpudmanWP 18 September, 2009 at 7:07 pm #

    btw, the F-35 is already wired for the NGJ.. 2Gb dedicated data lines to each A2G station, including the centerline station.

  4. Stephen Trimble 18 September, 2009 at 7:24 pm #

    I thought the wiring wasn’t installed or ready until the Block IV aircraft, with the actual kit not arriving to the Block V? Maybe I’m wrong.

    One of the big questions in the AEA is whether the USN can afford to develop NGJ into inconformal arrays to preserve the F-35′s LO signature. Of course, considering it’s a jamming pod, maybe LO isn’t so important?

  5. SpudmanWP 18 September, 2009 at 7:36 pm #

    Each A2G station has a dedicated 2Gb Fiber databus.

    They might not plan to do all the software integration and ICP upgrades til Blk 4/5, but the databus is in place.

  6. Stephen Trimble 18 September, 2009 at 7:38 pm #

    Great data! Thanks.

  7. Royce 18 September, 2009 at 8:12 pm #

    I don’t think it’s any surprise that older equipment will be outclassed by newer equipment. But procurement is all about picking what needs to be replaced first, so last year the system was good enough for now. They must think money is available now, so now we enter the “all our equipment is useless now” phase of the procurement dance.

    Also, doesn’t it seem unlikely that the single-seat F-35 can be used for the jamming mission?

  8. SpudmanWP 18 September, 2009 at 8:43 pm #

    Look at the progression of Naval Jamming. E-6 was a 4 seater and Growler is a two seater.

    As technology progresses and automation increases, the level of necessary human interaction decreases.

    btw, the ALQ-99 system is under constant development and can be upgraded in the field as the need arises.

  9. ELP 18 September, 2009 at 11:30 pm #

    I have some swamp land to sell you in Florida if you believe that.

  10. SpudmanWP 18 September, 2009 at 11:50 pm #

    The Navy has realized that the NGJ is a while off and they need to plan on further upgrades to the ALQ-99.

    See page 20 of this Sept 2008 presentation.

    btw, I think they need the NGJ and should not neglect it’s development. There is just too much benefit to an AESA based jammer.

  11. ELP 19 September, 2009 at 3:53 am #

    There isn’t much to “upgrade” on the 99. No matter what, it still won’t keep up with the threat. Not to mention no matter what you put on this slow, draggy, short range escort jammer it’s utility is going to be limited. But hey, appearance over substance.

  12. SpudmanWP 19 September, 2009 at 8:51 pm #

    There are currently studies related to the ALQ-99 and NGJ where upgrades to the 99 are a factor.

    All NGJ alternatives will be assessed as candidates for use by the EA-18G and F-35. There are three alternative categories for the NGJ AoA. They are as follows: Alternative Category 1: Incremental modernization of the current ALQ-99 TJS sub-system, starting with the oldest and/or most critical bands (such as Bands 4 and 5/6).

    There is a lot to upgrade on the ALQ-99 and it was designed from the ground up to be field reconfigurable.

    The AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) onboard system includes the receiver, processor, and aircrew interfaces. The TJS also includes a selection of mission-configured jammer pods carried as external stores. Each jammer pod contains a ram air turbine generator, two selectable transmitter modules with associated antennas, and a universal exciter which is interfaced with and controlled by the onboard system and aircrew. The modular open architecture of the jammer system, which facilitates optimizing transmitters and antennas for a given frequency range, also facilitates tailored mission configurations.

  13. ELP 19 September, 2009 at 10:54 pm #

    Yet we have multiple sources stating it isn’t relevant to emerging threats.

  14. FlightDreamz 20 September, 2009 at 2:04 am #

    I agree with Elp that the EA-18G “Growler” is draggy and short ranged (never been fond of the Hornet airframe as a whole), but what else does the USA have? The EF-111A’s have long been scrapped, and like SpudmanWP notes the jamming suite is upgradable (should be it’s been on the EF-111 and EA-6 Prowlers for years). Unless there’s a black program in the wings no one knows about, or if they come up with an unmanned version (put a jammer suite on a MQ-9 Reaper maybe, or or Northrup-Grummans new X-47B) the EA-18 Growler is the only jammer available.

  15. SpudmanWP 20 September, 2009 at 3:04 am #

    Yes, I know that they will have problems with emerging threats… that’s why they are studying upgrades to them.

  16. RSF 20 September, 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    The NGJ and the F-35 are a long way from being operational anytime soon. There are actually three separate issues to be discussed here:
    1. The USN has put all its eggs in one with basket the F-18E/F which is inferior in performance to its competitors (Rafale, SU-30/33/35,Eurofighter, etc). Design compromises like canting the under wing hardpoints outward have made a slow fighter even slower when flying with ordinance.
    2. The use of the ALQ-99 in the Growler is part of the same thought process that created the Super Hornet, use design compromises to field a functional system in the shortest time and worry about catching up later. The Growler is even slower then the standard Super Hornet the ALQ-99 pods installed.
    3. The F-35 is years behind schedule, and billions of dollars over budget. LM has yet to fly a fully operational JSF with the millions of lines of code running, and all its avionics and sensors working. Talking about integrating the NJG and the F-35C at this point is putting the cart before the horse.

  17. Scott 26 September, 2009 at 5:56 pm #

    With all do respect to Spudman, to think an ALQ-99 is upgradeable and relevant in today’s environment is at best rediculous. There is no “architecture” in the an ALQ-99 system beyond an artist’s block diagram, and the physical limitations (power, transmitter feedhorns, processing) can never be overcome. The Navy knew about the short-comings of the system way back to the mid-90′s, studies exist to bear this out. This problem has been kept under under the rug for a very long time. For political expediency, the Navy only argued sustainment issues to “sell” the F/A-18 as the replacement. Once that was accomplished, then the sky began falling about the problems with the ALQ-99. The EA-6B community is so narrowly focused that they cannot see solutions other than in their own context. Their biggest fallacy is the idea of retaining this capability in a manned platform. If there ever was a case for unmanned systems, the EW mission (ES, SIGINT, EA) is a perfect fit. Also, the problem must be solved in a System of Systems, a layered approach in delivery systems, coupled with frequency domain partitioning. Bottom line – there are many far cheaper, more effective solutions available.

  18. jack 4 November, 2009 at 3:08 pm #

    Band 5/6 Replacement Amplifier for the AN/ALQ-99(V) Tactical Jamming System
    Awarded Sep 30, 2009

  19. bobsyruncl 3 August, 2010 at 8:00 am #

    You can only upgrade equipment of a certain age. With EW we have entered a new age and thus need new systems. I once had a desktop computer that I kept upgrading until there just wasn’t a way to make it run windows 2000. I broke down and bought a new box. I was much, much better off (I could actually plug an ipod into the new one.) Going the upgrade route on current military hardware is like demanding that they make windows 7 run on a bank of commodore 64 computers networked with printer cables. It may be possible but why bother when you still can’t plug in your damn ipod or watch movies. Having spent four years doing avionics backshop maintenance on F-15s I can honestly say that this department of defense wide obsession with ‘upgrading’ instead of replacing has only dug us into ever deeper holes. Fighters, CAS, tankers, awacs, bombers, ground attack, Combat search and rescue and EW have all suffered at the hands of “It’ll be good for another 20yrs if we replace just one circuit card or box.” Piecemeal modernization of components is more expensive and produces a system that still needs to be replaced. Buy the new stuff now instead of paying twice. Upgrades are just a way for the current contractors to keep their contracts and avoid having to come up with something new and compete with other contractors. We need new stuff, designed from the ground up original. New processors, ICs, analog to digital and digital to analog tech has rendered even the basic operating principles of the older systems obsolete. There is no more room left for ‘expansion’ or ‘updating’.
    The house has been ‘Improved’ and added onto so many times that we need to start over. Preferably on a bigger lot located in a better neighborhood.

  20. john simek 22 March, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    The ALQ-99 TJS system has served the navy and marine corps well, for the 40 years that it has been in service.. being that I am one of the first ‘jammer techs’ from way back (70′s with VAQ outfits out of whidbey), the system has always had limitations. And, there were upgrades put into the system to overcome MOST of these increased threats.

    To think, that a 40-year old system is upgradeable at this point to take into account the SA-22 and other modern systems is ludicrous. The whole system needs an overhaul, because the main backbone and processors just aren’t fast enough (agile) to keep up with emerging threats. We had the same thing happen to us in IRAN in 1980/81 when we found that Iran had ground-based threats outside the limitations of the existing systems (band 9 max).. I-Hawk-II, Rapier and Roland systems were outside our bandwidth, hence the solution was to grow out to band 10..

    There comes a time in any technology, where it becomes very self-evident that it is time to junk the old systems and design a new system from the ground up, that is totally modular and upgradeable, using the newest in of our technologies. Yes, it IS expensive, but it IS necessary. Ask the Israelies how, keeping on the cutting edge has saved them aircraft and aircrews.

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