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Navy Preparing for More Aggressive Growler Operations

Conceptual loadouts for EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. Boeing Image

Conceptual loadouts for EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. Boeing Image

The U.S. Navy is shifting its airborne electronic attack (AEA) focus from disrupting the enemy’s targeting and tracking of allied aircraft to actively helping friendly forces find and eliminate enemy air defenses, service officials said at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2014 at National Harbor, Md. on Monday.

“Traditionally, the AEA role has been more of a red kill chain disruption,” said Capt. Francis Morley, Naval Air Systems Command’s F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager.
“So now a Growler brings in a large piece of that Blue kill chain part from that anti-access/area denied stand-off target detection, tracking and ID.”

Morley said that the Navy had demonstrated some of the new techniques at the Trident Warrior Fleet Exercises 2013 (Flex 2013).

These included cooperative passive geo-location of enemy emitters using the Rockwell Collins-developed Tactical Targeting Network Technology waveform and a technique called Emitter Time Distance of Arrival (TDOA) to feed data into the Common Operating Picture (COP). The COP in turn is a critical part of the Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control- Counter-Air (NIFC-CA) construct.

To make the best use of the new tactics, the Navy will need to integrate Raytheon’s Next Generation Jammers (NGJ) onto the Growler and increase the AEA squadron size to eight—up from five. However, the Navy has settled on increasing the unit composition to seven aircraft—that is if it can convince the Congress to fund additional Growlers.

The Navy has submitted a request for 22 additional EA-18Gs to Congress in it unfunded list, however Morley said that he does not know exactly how many additional aircraft the service would need to fill out the expanded squadrons.

“There are studies, you can do things to start upping that number. Where that goes, I don’t know,” Morley said.
“[It’s] above my pay-grade.”

Mike Gibbons, Boeing’s vice president for the F/A-18E/F and Growler program, said that the Navy could require anywhere between 50 and 100 additional EA-18G.

Boeing is also pushing the concept of using the EA-18G for the strike role—particularly against enemy air defenses—and the counter-air role. The aircraft would also be a “great” battle manager especially in a networked environment, he said. Gibbons said that the reason the company is pushing in that direction is because the EA-18G has sensors that have much greater range than other warplanes.

A Navy source said that while it is true the Growler is an excellent battle manager and targeting platform, the service would likely use the jet to pass that data to shooters like the Super Hornet under the NIFC-CA construct.

Though he could not share any details, Morley said that the first increment of NIFC-CA has been released early to the first F/A1-8 squadron that will deploy with the capability.

  • Old ECMO

    It’s important to always keep the GROWLER primary mission area primary. There are no other VAQ assets on the carrier…let the VFA squadrons do what they do best.

  • Secundius

    Lose the dedicated GROWLER squadron and intergrate them into a SUPER HORNET
    /RHINO Fighter squadron. Go back to the 12-plane squadron configuration, but this time have (2) GROWLERS intergrated into the current (10) SUPER HORNET/RHINO mix. This way have a dedicated Electronics Warfare airframe and Strike Fighter airframe in the same squadron. This would simplify Training, Tactical, Armament, and whole lot of other hosts into a single Doctrine. Considering that the GROWLER airframe can “Double-Duty” with the SUPER HORNET/RHINO airframes, when not doing Electronic Warfare Duties.

  • M&S

    A2AD happens in the approach, when someone shoots a DF-21D at your carrier group from farther out on the radial than your strike package can reliably out-and-back state a return trip to ‘suppress’ (because everything from V-2s in the Hague to SCUD Alley shows that killing is all but impossible) the TEL with.
    More ‘Jammers’ do nothing against this threat.
    NIFC-CA is just a lousy acronym in search of meaning as a method of sharing soft tracks among the strike group on conventional SEAD and OCA threats. NGJ is a _high band_ jammer which means that it covers HIJ bands so the ‘range’ of the detection sensors is never more than the horizon line. It doesn’t cover comm bands or low band (counter LO) radars.
    What’s more, if the threat doesn’t emit while listening in broadcast mode for ‘free noise’ from jammers, the jets can walk right up on it only to take multiple ARH missiles to the face from distances and I numbers which removes all possibility of dialing in enough jammer power to outfox the seekers.
    You simply won’t be able to cover the azimuth or elevation spread between rounds.
    Which means that however you organize the squadron level support and maintenance the jets in the sky will be dealing with inbound threats the same ol’ way: with ALQ-214 and decoys.
    If you can put four 9M96 shots in every canister for a 40N6 (4/2 cannisters per TEL for half of each type) on an S-400 battery, that’s 48 shots from a six-TEL battery.
    Who is going to suggest ‘jamming’ that?
    The only way network targeting with an AESA based /jammer/ works is if you are doing some kind of PCLS strobe backlighting from a multstatic receiver system and that implies that the enemy is willing to take you up on it with a symmetrical counter.
    Despite VLO investments in the J-20 and J-31, the Chinese ‘Near Peer’ have shown a preference for missiles-in-minutes over airstrikes-in-hours and are expanding that to ICD with subs and mines and coastal defense cruise missiles to back the BASM.
    Shoot the carrier and the naval airpower has no boat to float in this Air Sea styled Pacific Pivot op.
    Navy would be better going for a mix of MALD-J and Hoplite as next-gen LAM and PAM in combination with a Hoplite type (Mach 3 to 100nm) capabilities. Because these can be drop fired fro C-17s or fired from VLS on a hull that is worth considerably less than 10-12 billion on the hoof of a CVN with another 20+ in escorts.