The US Navy has shared details regarding planned enhancements for the electronic attack capabilities of its Boeing E/A-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.
The navy is moving ahead with the Growler Block-2 Phase-1 Next Generation Electronic Attack programme. A Boeing source shared that this is currently in the planning stage. The programme was first announced in 2021. The US Navy said at the time that the upgrade will focus on spiral improvements that will be added to the aircraft’s electronic attack capabilities taking the form of new algorithms.
Jammers Old and New
The E/A-18G is equipped with Raytheon’s AN/ALQ-249(V)1 Mid-Band Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) which covers wavebands of two gigahertz/GHz to six gigahertz. The AN/ALQ-249(V)1 will be joined in the future by the NGJ Low Band (NGJ-LB) jammer. This is expected to cover wavebands of circa 100 megahertz up to two gigahertz. A single NGJ-LB pod will be mounted on the Growler’s central, ventral weapons station. A high-band variant of the NGJ (NGJ-HB) is also expected, potentially covering wavebands of six gigahertz to at least 18GHz. The AN/ALQ-249(V)1 remains the only NGJ variant fielded as legal disputes continue concerning the award of NGJ-LB contracts.
These new EW algorithms will most likely be retrofitted to fielded AN/ALQ-249(V)1 systems. In addition, they are likely to be factory-installed on those systems awaiting production. Similar electronic attack algorithms maybe added to NGJ-LB and NGJ-HB systems at the production stage in the future.
Alongside these various incarnations of the NGJ, the E/A-18G continues to deploy ITT/L3Harris AN/ALQ-99 tactical jamming pods and the Northrop Grumman AN/ALQ-218 electronic support measure. Open sources say the AN/ALQ-99 can attack radar and radio emitters transmitting signals on frequencies of 64MHz up to 20GHz. Although both the AN/ALQ-99 and AN/ALQ-218 remain in service it seems unlikely that similar algorithmic improvements will be conferred on these systems. Moreover, their legacy closed software architecture may make this a prohibitively expensive. There would also be little point given their imminent replacement by the NGJ.
Boeing was awarded the contract to perform the Block-2 Phase-1 upgrade. This will use “a phased approach to modernise the airborne electronic attack capabilities” of the aircraft, the navy told Armada. It will provide “aircrew decision aids to maintain dominance in the electromagnetic spectrum.” These improvements will be packaged into the Next Generation Electronic Attack Unit (NGEAU). The spokesperson added that all E/A-18Gs in the US Navy fleet are to receive these enhancements.
Writ large, the NGEAU and its incorporation into the Block-2 Phase-1 programme form part of a “continuous series of upgrades.” These will conclude with an aircraft service life extension in the mid-2030s the navy added. The only other operator of the E/A-18G is the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). An US Navy spokesperson said the RAAF has “consistently aligned their aircraft configurations to the US Navy Growler” specification. However, they directed all enquires as to whether the force would perform similar improvements for its Growlers to the RAAF.
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by Dr. Thomas Withington