McDonnell Douglas (MDC) has formed an industry team to propose a variant of the F-18E/F Hornet to replace the US Navy's Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler electronic-warfare (EW) aircraft early in the next century.

The F-18 Command and Control Warfare (C2W) variant is based on the two-seat F-18F and combines the basic aircraft's air-to-air and air-to-ground abilities with EW, communications-jamming, air-defence hard-kill and battle-management capabilities.

Work initiated in August 1993 led to a six-month, USN-funded, study, completed in June 1994, which concluded that the F-18F could replace the EA-6B. The Navy cancelled an EA-6B advanced-capability (ADVCAP) upgrade in 1994 and calculates that a replacement for the 127 aircraft in service will be required by 2010, or earlier.

The MDC-led team is seeking Navy funding for further studies, to enable a "low-cost entry into engineering and manufacturing development at the turn of the century", says programme manager Paul Summers. The team is looking for Navy funding in 1996 to continue risk-reduction work.

The team includes F-18 principal subcontractor Northrop Grumman as prime contractor for the C2W system-integration, with Litton Amecom supplying a development of the ADVCAP receiver, and Lockheed Sanders the communications-band receiver.

The ADVCAP derivative would be one-third the size and half the weight of the system developed for the EA-6B and would have at least as much capability, Summers says. A new jamming system, would be developed to supercede the AIL ALQ-99 used in the EA-6B, he says.

The C2W would have the speed and manouevrability, to keep up with F-18 and McDonnell Douglas F-15E attack aircraft. Smaller transmitter/exciters would be housed in transonic pods with steerable arrays. Wide-band receiver arrays would be mounted on the wingtips.

With two or three pods, the aircraft would have broader frequency coverage than the EA-6B and effective radiated power of the system would be at least as great as the ALQ-99's, Summers says. "Innovative" jamming techniques, "not just broad-band noise", would be used.

Recognising that the Navy's first priority is keeping the EA-6B viable, the team is developing a transition plan that could result in the new systems being used to upgrade the Prowler, before being installed in the F-18F.

The team plans "considerable investment" in the C2W in 1995. A high-fidelity manned simulator has been built and is being evaluated by active aircrew. A large, 200 x 250mm, colour liquid-crystal display in the rear cockpit is used to manage the system.

Source: Flight International