Northrop Grumman has unveiled plans for co-ordinating the US military’s future airborne electronic attack (AEA) arsenal through an over-arching network called the Electronic Warfare Battle Management (EWBM) suite. The concept is at the heart of the company’s proposal to challenge Boeing for a $3 billion contract to convert the B-52 bomber into a long-distance radar hunter.
Boeing executives have touted their concept as a plan to employ stand-off jammer (SOJ)-equipped B-52s as the AEA’s official command centre, orchestrating an emerging web of electronic attack weapons that are to include the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F/A-22, Boeing EA-18G Growler and Northrop Miniature Air Launch Decoy-Jammer (MALD-J).
But Northrop thinks differently. Its vision is to construct the EWBM as a platform-independent network that would serve as the AEA centrepiece, in which the B-52 and all other AEA-member aircraft are functional nodes. Its concept would focus on the B-52 first, but also leverage its other electronic-warfare programmes, such as the EA-18G’s improved ALQ-218 EW receiver suite, the MALD-J and the X-47B candidate in the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems programme.
Northrop officials say the EWBM network could rely at first on the military’s Link-16 waveform standard, but would eventually migrate to a wideband waveform as those become available. The company has started developing the EWBM’s software engine called the AEA Mission Management Processing tool, of which pieces are in testing with the ALQ-218. The duelling concepts offered by Boeing and Northrop will be decided in early October by the US Air Force, which plans to select one contractor for a three-year, $260 million risk-reduction phase for the B-52 SOJ system.
The USAF had intended to award a sole-source contract to B-52 prime contractor Boeing, but late last year changed course and launched a competition. Its plan is to re-wire the entire B-52 fleet to be able to carry a long-distance electronic attack system, although the jammer purchase will be limited to equipment for 16 aircraft.
STEPHEN TRIMBLE / WASHINGTON DC