US Air Force probes structrual viability of EC-130H Compass Calls

The US Air Force has revealed that the structural health of its primary airborneelectronic attack platform, the EC-130H Compass Call, is under review by afleet viability board.

The board’s members will determine by January how theairframes of the 14-aircraft Compass Call fleet have held up after nearly adecade of hyper-activity, says Col Stephen Brown, chief of electronic warfarerequirements.

The US Air Force’s primary system for jamming communicationssystems has been in high demand in both Afghanistanand Iraq,presumably for disrupting the comparatively primitive command and controlnetworks of insurgents and jamming the triggering devices for improvisedexplosive devices.

The Compass Call fleet has operated at a rate 2.5 timesgreater than planned, Brown says in an interview. But it’s not clear if anymajor concerns prompted USAF officials to call for the fleet viability boardreview.

“I’m not gong to say it was a worry or a concern,” Brownsays.

The results of the review will be closely scrutinized by thejoint community. The Compass Calls are not only in high demand in currentoperations, but are the primary aerial weapon for jamming or disrupting enemy communicationsin a “near-peer” conflict.

Moreover, the Compass Call’s future viability is a hot issuewithin the USAF. By default, the EC-130H fleet now stands as a pillar of theUSAF’s airborne electronic attack strategy, with the final demise earlier this year of a plan toconvert some B-52s into standoff broadband signals jammers. Brown confirms the B-52 core component jammer programme was canceled because a broadband jammer was not deemed cost-effective.

If the Compass Call viability review  finds any problems, the USAF couldbe faced with an unplanned, and expensive, repair or replacement bill. USAFofficials have previously stated that WC-130s or TC-130s, or both, could beconverted into EC-130Hs if the demand required it.

The US Navy is also starting to field its own communicationsjamming system. The Boeing EA-18G Growler carries the Raytheon ALQ-227communications countermeasures set.

The US Army also appears interested in creating a similarcapability by repackaging the ALQ-227 into a jamming pod that can be carried byunmanned aircraft system such as the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems IncMQ-1C Sky Warrior.


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