Graham Warwick/ST LOUIS

Operational crews have evaluated the McDonnell Douglas (MDC) F-18 command and control warfare (C2W) variant using a concept simulator at MDC's St Louis, Missouri, headquarters. The C2W variant of the two-seat F-18F is being proposed to replace US Navy and Marine Corps Grumman EA-6B Prowler electronic-warfare (EW) aircraft.

The Navy is drawing up a requirement for a Prowler replacement, but has yet to fund the F-18 C2W work, which is being financed by MDC, principal subcontractor Northrop Grumman and equipment suppliers. MDC says that EA-6Bs will need replacing between 2007 and 2011, and the team has chosen 2008 as the target in-service date for the F-18 C2W.

Some 40 Navy and Marine Corps pilots and electronic-countermeasures officers (ECMOs) evaluated the C2W crew-vehicle interface simulator late in October. This F-18F simulator has a modified rear cockpit with an enlarged colour tactical-situation display (TSD) and new EW formats for the side displays. MDC says that crew response to the concept has been "very good".

Work has concentrated on the crew-vehicle interface because the C2W is a two-seat aircraft, whereas the Prowler has four crew. The jamming system is highly automated, for operation by a single ECMO. The TSD is a "battle-management" display, presenting a digital map showing emitters, jamming strobes, routes for attacking aircraft which the C2W is escorting and the engagement zone of the F-18's anti-radiation weapons.

Colour coding indicates whether an emitter is a radar or communications site, or both. The ECMO can "hook" an emitter by touch screen or cursor control, and its characteristics appear on the left-side display.

The right-side display allows the ECMO to change the automatic allocation of jamming-power priorities across the low-, medium- and high-frequency bands.

Northrop Grumman will integrate the electronic-warfare system, which uses receivers developed for the EA-6B ADVCAP upgrade and a "totally new" jamming system. One jamming pod covers all bands, with the capability of three or four EA-6B pods, MDC says. The pod's three active electronically scanned arrays provide 360¹ jamming coverage in medium and high bands.

Wingtip pods house the associated receivers. MDC added fins to these pods after wind tunnel tests revealed a loss of lift. Communications band coverage is provided by receiver antennas on the airframe and transmitter arrays on the jamming pod. No structural changes are required, and the C2W retains the F-18F's tactical capability, according to MDC.

Developing the 900kg-class jamming pod is a "big technical challenge", says MDC. Stealth is an issue, and the pod will have an internal turbine-driven generator fed by a low-observable inlet. The C2W will normally carry one pod - two in the stand-off/escort jamming role - in addition to HARM anti-radiation missiles and/or Joint Stand Off Weapons.

The team expects the current concept-exploration phase to continue until 1999 and is hoping for Navy funding to support the effort. Plans are for a follow-on risk-reduction phase, ending in 2002, with development being completed in 2007. Around 150 aircraft could be required to replace the Navy's EA-6Bs, which are taking on the US Air Force stand-off jamming role now accomplished by using Grumman EF-111s.

MDC is stalking the Prowler with a new variant of the F-18

Source: Flight International