US Navy starts next-generation jammer bidding war

Washington DC
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The US Navy has selected four companies to participate in a four-year, $430 million competition to design a next-generation jammer (NGJ) pod for the Boeing EA-18G Growler and Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

BAE Systems, ITT, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon have each received a $6 million contract to begin developing their concepts for replacing the 38-year-old ALQ-99 pod. The navy favours a solution based on an active electronic array, but is not constraining any approach the bidders might take to achieve the desired results.

"We've told them what we want, but not how to do it," says Capt Steven Kochman, the USN's programme manager for NGJ. All four companies are seeking to be chosen for a 10-month technical maturity phase scheduled to begin in March 2010.

The USN is not required to eliminate any of the bidders, but Kochman says he expects cost considerations to cut the competition to two or three teams. Those will be selected to enter a technology development phase in January 2011, during which prototypes will be demonstrated. The goal is to select a single contractor to finally develop and produce the winning system, which is scheduled for delivery from 2018.

The NGJ effort began in dramatic fashion. After receiving a classified briefing on future threats last year, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England ordered the navy to launch a replacement programme for the vacuum tube-era ALQ-99. The replacement pod is expected to fill the same role: escorting stealthy and non-stealthy tactical aircraft to the edge of the threat zone, jamming the radars used by enemy forces to fire surface-to-air missiles.

However, as a new generation of longer-range SAMs is deployed, the NGJ must adapt with a more powerful and dramatically more precise transmitter, Kochman says. "The aperture on the ALQ-99 is one of the most significant limiting factors," he notes. "It doesn't have the ability to direct it exactly where you want. [Instead, the antenna] spreads the energy at times you don't want, which limits your interoperability."

Although the SAM threat is changing, so are the targets. The ALQ-99 was designed to protect the McDonnell Douglas F-4 and the Vought A-7. But the NGJ will have the benefit of being designed to protect far less vulnerable fighters, such as the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-35, Kochman says.

The precise requirements to guide the technology development phase will be derived from a 15-month analysis of alternatives, which is under way. But industry teams are already forming for the requirement. ITT, which has purchased ALQ-99 maker EDO, has teamed with Boeing, combining the USN's incumbent supplier for jammer pods and the integrator for one of the first jamming platforms.