A major announcement from the recent Avalon Air Show by Defence Minister Marise Payne revealed that Australia has entered into an agreement with the US Navy to co-develop elements of the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) programme. Welcoming the first of the RAAF’s Boeing EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft, the Defence Minister said that the $250m investment will future proof the Growler’s capability.
“As this is a rapidly evolving area we will work in partnership with the United States Navy to develop the next generation jamming capability, which will ensure that these aircraft remain at the technological forefront throughout their service life,” Minister Payne said.
The RAAF is acquiring 12 Growlers, with the first batch of four delivered to Amberley in late-Februrary. The appearance of a Growler at Avalon was the first time the aircraft had been seen in public in Australia. The aircraft are being progressively ferried across the Pacific and all twelve will be delivered by the middle of this year, providing the Defence Force with a tactical jamming capability matched only by the US Navy and US Marine Corps. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is expected mid-2018, with Final Operational Capability (FOC)to follow mid-2022.
Next Generation Jammer
A key element of the Growler capability is the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System pod, carried beneath the wings or on the centreline station under the fuselage. Manufactured by the Edo Corporation, the pods are of the Vietnam era, albeit since modernised. The US Navy is seeking replacement of the pod under its Next Generation Jammer programme.
ALQ-99 pods were fitted to the US Navy’s EA-6B Prowler airborne electronic attack aircraft for decades before being transferred to the EA-18G as the newer aircraft types were delivered. The US Marine Corps does not operate Growlers and still uses the pod on its Prowler fleet.
The pods were modernised by Northrop Grumman in recent times to the Improved Capability (ICAP) III configuration in the late 2000s, however the pods are rapidly becoming obsolete. There are two basic configurations of ALQ-99, the most numerous being the mid-band jamming system, which is the range where most of the threats lie, and a low-band system. Prowlers carried a number of the mid-band pods (most often two) on the underwing hard-points and a single low-band unit on the centreline station.
The US Navy sought a replacement under the NGJ programme in 2010, beginning with the mid-band capability under Increment 1. Raytheon won the competition in July 2013 and awarded a US$279.4 million contract to begin a technology demonstration phase.
Initial work was delayed following a protest from one of Raytheon’s competitors, but resumed in early 2014 after the original decision was confirmed by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). Initial Operational Capability for the upgraded pod is planned for 2021.
The low-band capability to be delivered under Increment 2 of the NGJ programme will again be competed for by industry, and a future Increment 3 may deliver a high-band jamming capability not available within the ALQ-99 system today.