The US Navy has decided to upgrade the Boeing EA-18G Growler with a new datalink and other systems that allow the aircraft to identify vessels at long-range without using radar, Boeing announced on 1 December.

The retrofit and forward fit decision for the Rockwell Collins tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) datalink comes after the new identification capability was validated during the FLEX 2015 fleet experiment.

“This enhanced targeting capability provides our aircrews with a significant advantage, especially in an increasingly designs threat environment where longer-range targeting is critical to the fight,” US Navy F/A-18 and EA-18G programme manager Capt David Kindley said in a statement provided by Boeing.

Naval officials first disclosed the new capability for the Growler fleet last August, unveiling a new development in a decades-old game of adversaries using new techniques to elude and enable electronic identification.

The EA-18G already can use an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar – the Raytheon APG-79 – to identify targets at long-range, but using that emitter exposes the aircraft to detection by the intended target’s radar warning systems.

Alternatively, a set of wingtip-mounted electronic receivers – the Northrop Grumman ALQ-218 – also has used a processing technique called long baseline interferometry to identify targets. That technique keeps the EA-18G electronically stealthy, but it only works at short ranges.

More recently, however, the navy has been testing a new system enabled by the high-bandwidth TTNT datalink, a faster targeting processor with an open architecture.

The ALQ-218 receivers on each EA-18G first detect electronic signals emitting from a target. Then, the faster processor uses time difference of arrival techniques to determine the location of the emitter. That information is then shared with other EA-18Gs and the Northrop E-2D Advanced Hawkeye using the TTNT and open architecture-based processors. That combined processing power allows the group of aircraft to positively identify targets at long-range.

“This long-range targeting technology is essential as we advance electronic attack capabilities for the conflicts of today and tomorrow,” says Dan Gillian, Boeing’s vice-president for F/A-18 and EA-18G programmes.