Northrop Grumman has started upgrade modifications to the first EA-6B Improved Capability Programme III (ICAPIII) test aircraft as production of replacement centre wing sections is extended in an effort to sustain the operational life of the US Navy's fleet of electronic warfare (EW) aircraft.


The ICAPIII aircraft will make its first flight in the second quarter of next year. After this it will go to the US Navy's Patuxent River test facility for system performance and electromagnetic compatibility testing. It will be joined soon at Northrop Grumman by a second test aircraft, which, after tear down and modification, will fly in late 2001.

"ICAPIII is a six-year programme and we're now about 60% through," says programme manager Joe Cagnazzi. The company has the first two of four planned software loads in place and will receive the initial Litton LR700 reactive receivers early next year.

The $200 million ICAPIII development will for the first time allow the Prowler to select and switch between jamming frequencies according to the threat, rather than diluting power and range by pre-emptively targeting a broad spectrum. The system not only locks onto a frequency, but mimics frequency hopping patterns.

The USN is now bringing all of its ICAPII-equipped Block 82 and 86 Prowlers to a common Block 89A standard, which will serve as a foundation for ICAPIII from 2004. New systems now being fitted to the aircraft include the USQ-113 communication jammer, an embedded GPS satellite navigation/ inertial navigation system and AYK-14 processor.

In addition to reactive jammers, the ICAPIII package will include new displays for the EA-6B's three EW operators, additional processors and a tactical display interface. Future enhancements are under consideration, including addition of a wide-band datalink to provide a distributed EW jammer network.

Northrop Grumman is also promoting ICAPIII as a suite that could be installed in a replacement airframe such as the Boeing F/A-18G. The USN is due to complete an analysis of alternatives next year. One option being considered is a further life extension of its 124 EA-6B, or restarting production.

Source: Flight International