USAF shifts jammer funding plans from B-52s to cheap pods

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The US Air Force has dramatically changed the focus of a frustrated, decade-long attempt to revitalise its ability to jam radars and communications systems.

After abandoning a second attempt earlier this year to convert some Boeing B-52Hs into standoff jamming platforms, the USAF investment strategy has shifted to fielding less expensive "stand-in" systems that could be delivered within a few years.

"We've got to figure out how to do it with less money, but we also have to figure out how to do it faster," says Maj Gen David Scott, air staff requirements director.

Scott, addressing the Association of Old Crows annual convention in Washington DC, cited Raytheon's miniature air-launched decoy-jammer (MALD-J) as a key priority in the new strategy. The MALD-J remains in development, but when deployed will fly into defended airspace and jam hostile radars.

The USAF also has revealed plans to adopt a low-cost strategy to augment its ageing and heavily used EC-130 Compass Call fleet. Compass Call crews jam communications systems ranging from the command and control networks of peer militaries to the mobile phones used by insurgents for coordinating ambushes or triggering bombs.

Two weeks ago, the Aeronautical Systems Center's capabilities development division issued a call for industry to propose ideas for augmenting the EC-130's mission with a communications network attack pod.

The USAF may acquire low-cost, communications jamming pods for "existing aircraft", and deploy them no later than 2012, the survey notice says.

Unmanned aircraft systems, fighters, bombers and transports could be used to carry the pod, the notice says. Performance requirements for the jamming system are classified, but the survey notice says some are challenging. If a company is unable to deliver a fully compliant system by 2012, it should explain how it could be upgraded to meet all of the requirements later, the notice says.

The low-cost stand-in jamming strategy is the latest plan for addressing the US military's acknowledged gaps in electronic warfare capabilities.

The USAF chose not to replace the General Dynamics EF-111 Raven fleet, which was retired in 1997. Two years later, Serbia shot down a Lockheed F-117 fighter, exposing the need for robust jamming even with stealth technology.

In 2002, the USAF launched the airborne electronic attack system of systems strategy, which called for acquiring the B-52 stand-off jamming system. The USAF cancelled the programme in 2005, claiming that its cost had ballooned from $1 billion to $7 billion.

A scaled-back version of the B-52 concept called core component jammer was revived in 2007, but dropped earlier this year.