Deployment in Afghanistan identifies additional requirements for EC-130H, including self-protection suite

The US Air Force has accelerated initial fielding of the BAE Systems Special Emitter Array (SPEAR) on the Lockheed Martin EC-130H Compass Call for jamming communications in Afghanistan. BAE is also considering a modified SPEAR pod for the Boeing B-52H as one of a number of possible future electronic attack (EA) alternatives.

Three EC-130Hs have been modified to carry the two underwing-mounted SPEAR pods, and at least one was deployed to Afghanistan during the recent air offensive. The phased-array jammer was developed under an advanced concept technology demonstration and is intended to complement a planned Block 35 upgrade of the USAF's 13 Block 20/30 Compass Call aircraft.

"SPEAR was in the final stages of development and not quite ready" when the USAF started deploying to southern Asia last September, says Lt Col Bob Johnson, USAF Compass Call programme manager. BAE received a contract last November to broaden the system's jamming frequencies and upgrade the jamming techniques generator hardware and software.

Block 35 initial operational capability is several years away, says Johnson, and in the meantime SPEAR will be used as alternative equipment on Block 30 aircraft. Each 550kg (1,200lb) pod contains 144 discrete elements that can be steered to form four different beams simultaneously. It is carried on the EC-130's outboard wing station and requires structural modification to the aircraft.

To reduce drag and weight the USAF is removing the underwing fuel tanks from the Compass Call aircraft.

Afghanistan has identified a number of additional requirements for the EC-130H, including the need to add a self-protection suite, featuring counter measures dispensers and a missile warning receiver. Unlike previous conflicts, the war in Afghanistan required the aircraft to operate over hostile high-altitude terrain, putting the aircraft in range of ground fire and surface-to-air missiles.

The USAF expects the EC-130H, following a planned avionics modernisation, to remain in service until 2025. The USAF and BAE are also looking at ways to migrate SPEAR to other platforms. One proposal is to repackage the jammer into a slightly larger pod to replace one of the B-52's outboard fuel tanks, to give protection to the Lockheed Martin F-117. "We're supporting this and also looking at more co-operative operations," says Michael Powell, BAE development engineering.


Source: Flight International