US Air Force cancels SAM-jamming EB-52 for second time

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The US Air Force's decision to terminate the EB-52 stand-off jammer concept for a second time deals a new blow to the US electronic warfare community.

Maj Scott Fisher, an electronic warfare modernisation requirements officer for Air Combat Command, confirms that funding for the revived EB-52 core component jammer (CCJ) effort has been removed this year from long-term spending plans.

The idea of equipping a subset of the Boeing B-52 bomber fleet with high-power, wing-tip jamming pods has been pursued for almost a decade. A 2002 study by the USAF identified the need for a "systems of systems" airborne electronic attack architecture, with the EB-52 as the centrepiece.

 
 © USAF

The concept also included the Boeing EA-18G Growler as an escort jammer, and Raytheon's miniature air-launched decoy-jammer (MALD-J) as a stand-in radar suppressor.

However, then-USAF chief of staff Gen Michael Moseley cancelled a $1 billion acquisition for the stand-off component in 2005. Moseley said the programme's cost had ballooned to $7 billion, although some industry and government officials estimated the real cost to be $3-4 billion.

Facing Congressional pressure, the USAF revived the concept in 2007. That prompted Boeing and airborne jamming specialist Northrop Grumman to form a competitive alliance, with BAE Systems their most likely rival for a contract.

Less than two years later, the USAF has again changed direction, and is now willing to accept more risk in the stand-off jamming mission, Fisher says. At the same time, the service will contribute more resources to support the stand-off jamming mission. "Just because you don't have one piece doesn't mean the whole mission falls apart," Fisher says.

Another effort to mitigate the loss of the EB-52 is to upgrade the Lockheed Martin EC-130ECH Compass Call fleet, which has traditionally focused on communications warfare. The 14-aircraft fleet is being upgraded starting this year with a radar jamming system, although its capabilities and frequency range are undisclosed.

Fisher also says that multiple CCJ technology maturity contracts have been awarded by the US Air Force Research Laboratory. Those contracts, which fund development of critical power and cooling technologies, such as gallium nitride-based processors, will be concluded at the end of this year. Based on their results, the USAF may decide to fund follow-on development work for a stand-off or other jamming systems in the fiscal year 2012 budget, Fisher says.