Intrepid Tiger II – EW in the USMC

USMC EA-6B Prowler
USMC EA-6B Prowler

The primary asset for electronic warfare in the USMC has been the venerable Grumman EA-6B Prowler (and to a lesser extent, recently, RQ-7 Shadow UAVs). These airframe utilize the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) to monitor and disrupt threat radars and communications on the battlefield. Lately during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Prowler (in addition to US Navy and Airforce EW assets) to jam cell phone integrated improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Prowler has been in USMC service since the early 1970’s and due to airframe age have very recently been replaced by the EA-18G Growler, in US Navy service. The USMC has no plans to operate the Growler and will gradually phase the Prowler out to opt for an EW version of the F-35 Lightning 2. As for 2013, the USMC operated 4 squadrons (called VMAQs-) of Prowlers.

The decision of the USMC to opt for an EW version of the F-35 is already pretty controverisal. The USMC will operated the F-35B (the STOVL) version. It’s unknown whether or not the USMC will develop an “electronic attack” version of the F-35B (perhaps EF-35B) or add EW as another task for the F-35 to d0. The later would be possbile in terms of hardware given the AESA radar but in high threat environs, the single pilot would likely become task saturated. Most likely, the USMC would depend on the Navy’s Growlers and the USAF EC-130 aircraft. In a high threat “day-one” area either aircraft wouldn’t be able to escort the F-35. Most likely, both the EC-130 and Growler provide jamming coverage in at a relatively safer distance from a target area i.e “stand-off jamming.”

Meanwhile facing IED threats in Afganistan, the gradual drawdown of the USMC’s Prowler fleet, and continued delays in the F-35, the USMC would be left without an organic EW capability. It was recently revealed in 2008 that the USMC has developed a “podded” EW solution, called the Intrepid Tiger II for it’s Harrier fleet:

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In 2008 the USMC took dealing with the improvised explosive devices threat into their own hands and what they ended up with was a cost effective and highly adaptable jamming and communications intelligence pod that should be a model of how to satisfy future urgent “niche capability” needs.

It is called the Intrepid Tiger II and it looks very much like a ALQ-167 threat simulation podused for training by NAVAIR and its “Red Air” contractors. The pod itself is about the same size as a AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile, with various aerials emitting from its tubular body. This configuration makes the pod capable of being deployed aboard the AV-8B Harrier jump-jet and its aerodynamic impact on the jet’s performance is so anemic that the aircraft’s flight computer does not even need a software update to carry it, it just treats it as an AGM-65 Maverick missile.

During the system’s rapid design phase, engineers made use of off the shelf parts in order to bring the program’s costs down and shorten the urgently needed pod’s developmental time-span. The first eight pods cost about a million dollars each, which is a bargain considering that anything with the words “new” and “military” next to it usually has an appalling price tag. When you look at what the Corps gets for that million bucks, Intrepid Tiger II is an all-out steal.

RTWT

The Intrepid Tiger is also highly automated (there’s only one pilot in the Harrier) and can, interestingly be operated either by the pilot and/or a remote ground station via datalink. The USMC hope to integrate the pod with other airborne platforms (Hornet and Cobra chiefly). While Intrepid Tiger does provide a limited solution in the face of the drawdown of the Prowler, and it also provides theather commanders with another EW asset option as current options aviable are “low density, high deman” meaning there aren’t enough to go around. The downside is that the Harrier doesn’t have much of a loiter capability (if someone needs on-station coverage) and you aren’t getting the same capability in terms of jamming coverage and power as you would from a dedicated EW platform.

But hell, something is better than nothing and the USMC deserves kudos for coming up with something.

Intrepid Tiger has already been test flown on Harriers from VMA-214 and is expected to be deployed with VMA-211 when they return to Afganistan later this year. 

 IMO, for the USMC to maintain an organic EW capabilty, they should opt for the Growler (an EW F-35 is a naive pipe dream and pointless gamble). The training infastructure is already there in the Navy and additional purchases would lower the unit costs. That said, because of the very high optempo of current national EW assets, Intrepid Tiger is a decent “ad hoc” organic EW platform and could develop into something useful for other services.

China Provides a Lesson About Influence Squadrons

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Sort of Sir Julian Corbett meets Woody Allen.  (“Ninety percent of life is just showing up”. )  From Forbes.com:

On Wednesday, Vietnamese officials announced that one of China’s ships intentionally rammed two of their Sea Guard vessels.  The incidents took place on Sunday, the 4th.  Six were injured, according to Hanoi.

“Chinese ships, with air support, sought to intimidate Vietnamese vessels,” said Tran Duy Hai of the Foreign Ministry at a news conference.  Other officials said six other Vietnamese craft were hit.

The incidents occurred after China National Offshore Oil Corp., better known as CNOOC , had on May 2 towed a deep-water rig, the size of several football fields, to an area that Hanoi claims is within its exclusive economic zone, near the Paracel Islands.

Beijing brought a fleet of about 80 vessels to keep the Vietnamese from stopping the oil rig, designated HD-981.  CNOOC called HD-981 a “strategic weapon”at its launch in 2012.

This is not some commercial venture, nor can any Chinese incursion of this type ever be so considered.

…it is clear that the company was using the rig at Beijing’s behest.  “This reflected the will of the central government and is also related to the U.S. strategy on Asia,”said a Chinese oil official, speaking anonymously to Reuters, about drilling in Vietnam’s waters.  “It is not commercially driven.  It is also not like CNOOC has set a big exploration blueprint for the region.”

It did not take long for Chinese leaders to test President Obama’s general commitment to maintain regional security after his eight-day, four-nation “reassurance” visit there at the end of last month.  …This is the first time China has drilled in Vietnamese waters.  Moreover, this is the first time Beijing openly used its “gray hulls”—navy ships—in close support of “white hulls”—civilian maritime craft—while enforcing a territorial claim, according to the Nelson Report, the Washington insider newsletter.  There are seven Chinese naval ships in the vicinity of the rig.

Perhaps President Obama and his Administration can begin to appreciate the value of a truly global Navy with sufficient hulls and capabilities to protect US interests and that of her allies.   An inadequate number of large, expensive capital ships cannot provide adequate forward presence in all the places in which such presence is required, irrespective of the relative combat power of the individual warship.  Wednesday’s events near the Paracels provides an object lesson of precisely that.   China’s example of the use of an “influence squadron” is a telling one.  The PLA Navy is where the PRC wishes it to be in order to further Chinese interests.  Those interests are being furthered at the direct expense of US interests.  And the US Navy, stretched past the breaking point by global commitments with a shrinking force, is notably absent in the role of forward presence.

The entire episode of China’s expansion of exploration into the Paracels, the erecting of a massive rig structure, and the protection of that rig with Navy units shows also that The People’s Republic of China is no more intimidated by the hollow platitudes of President Obama’s guarantees to our Asian allies than Vladimir Putin is by Obama’s incessant harping on non-existent “consequences” for actions along Russia’s borders.  Once again, we have rivals and potential adversaries who understand power.  The ability to influence allies and enemies to act in a way which is in consonance with one’s national interests, and the willingness to use all the elements of national power to bring that about.

The common thread along both Russia’s western border and the South China Sea is a feckless and vacillating United States, whose statecraft is in the hands of naive and talentless amateurs who are rapidly dismantling their own military capabilties.  Small wonder our allies are not reassured by the words of our President.  Because, like our rivals East and West, they know those words are without consequence, because they are without the will (nor soon, the means) to give them meaning.

Lazarus Calls for Executing Plan URR with Tico Reduced Commission Proposal

Information Dissemination contributor (and Salamander Front Porch regular) Lazarus lays out a good plan which should ring slightly familiar.  Laz’s post contains far more practical information than my conceptual musings, and I am very pleased to see the ideas be floated in such a widely-read forum as ID.

A Ticonderoga class cruiser shorn of most of its combat systems, operations, and supply departments would qualify for nucleus crew status. A U.S. nucleus crew might spend a week to 10 days per quarter underway with these opportunities spread out rather than concentrated in one at sea event. Underway periods need be no greater than 24 hours in duration in order to provide elements of basic crew training. Crews could eat pre-prepared meals for short underway periods, and a shore-based centralized supply office could support individual ship’s logistics and maintenance support needs. All CGs selected for such a program would be assigned to geographic areas relatively free from foul weather sortie requirements. The program would need to be flexible in order to be resilient through periods of fluctuating budget support.

Lazarus points to the wear and tear that the Ticos have endured, and is far more diplomatic than I have been about the cause of their “rapid aging”.

Shortfalls in training and maintenance in the decade of the 2000’s as highlighted in the Balisle report further indicate the class has been proverbially “put away wet” without necessary attention as well.

In short, a bunch of senior Naval Officers, including a number of Admirals, decided that skimping on maintenance and manpower was a good way to save money.  For all of their MBAs and other service experience, that cabal of Officers cost this country and its Navy BILLIONS of dollars in premature retirement of fully capitalized assets, by formulating a stupid and short-sighted plan that ignored the very fundamentals of equipment operation that any Vocational High School Equipment Maintenance and Repair teacher could have taught them in ten minutes.

I do hope someone is listening at Big Navy.  Otherwise more valuable assets and taxpayer treasure go down the drain for the stubborn stupidity of our Navy’s leadership.