PAUL LEWIS / WASHINGTON DC
DoD study looks towards 'family of solutions' tailored to meet needs of each service
Draft results from the US Department of Defense's Joint Airborne Service Electronic Attack analysis of alternatives (AoA) are not expected to identify a single solution to replace the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler, but rather a range of near and longer term electronic warfare options tailored to the needs of each service.
The AoA, due to be completed by the end of the year, is having difficulty finding a single platform solution. Instead sources point to a 'family of solutions', which in some cases could defer difficult and costly EW decisions for some years.
The US Navy and Marine Corps have 124 EA-6Bs, but the number will start to drop below the required minimum of 108 operational aircraft in 2011/12 unless the Prowlers are again rewinged. The USMC wants to continue with the EA-6B in the hope that an EW version of the Joint Strike Fighter will eventually be fielded as a successor, rather than have to induct an all new type such as the proposed E/A-18 version of the Boeing F/A-18E/F.
Flight testing of the EA-6B Improved Capability Programme III (ICAP III) starts soon, with the upgraded aircraft entering service in 2004. The update includes new displays, additional processing power and new LR700 receivers that allow the aircraft to react, lock-onto and jam specific frequencies. The USMC is also looking at other options to reduce operating costs, such as a new auxiliary power unit and an onboard oxygen generator.
The USN has its sights set on equipping each aircraft carrier with six ICAP III-equipped E/A-18s from around 2008, providing commonality with the F/A-18E/F. This, and new weaponry, will allow the USN to cut its carrier air group from 56 to 50 aircraft, freeing up enough aircraft to form an 11th air wing. The F/A-18E/F is also likely to replace the Lockheed S-3 Viking as an aerial tanker.
USAF interest is in a distributed architecture rather than a dedicated platform. A small number of LR700-equipped aircraft would datalink emitter frequency and location information to fighters. The EA-6B is already using the improved data modem to assist Raytheon AGM-88 Harm-equipped Lockheed Martin F-16CJs with targeting.
Source: Flight International