The Stars are in our Future

Well, celestial navigation is, anyway.

The same techniques guided ancient Polynesians in the open Pacific and led Sir Ernest Shackleton to remote Antarctica, then oriented astronauts when the Apollo 12 was disabled by lightning, the techniques of celestial navigation.

A glimmer of the old lore has returned to the Naval Academy.

Officials reinstated brief lessons in celestial navigation this year, nearly two decades after the full class was determined outdated and cut from the curriculum.

That decision, in the late 1990s, made national news and caused a stir among the old guard of navigators.

Maritime nostalgia, however, isn’t behind the return.

Rather, it’s the escalating threat of cyber attacks that has led the Navy to dust off its tools to measure the angles of stars.

After all, you can’t hack a sextant.

I was in the “never should have quit” camp, btw. That’s the same position I take on paper maps and protractors for land navigation.

USNA Celestial Navigation

 

This 1940s sextant is among the supply stored at the Naval Academy. Midshipmen were tested on celestial navigation for more than a century before the required class was cut in the late 1990s. (By Tim Prudente / Capital Gazette)

GPS does offer several advantages over celestial navigation. For one thing, much greater accuracy, measured literally in single digits of feet. For another, it is continuously updating. Other navigational systems, such as inertial, start with a known fix, and then “drift” after that, with the error in position accumulating over time until the next opportunity to update from a known position.

But as the cited article notes, you can’t jam a sextant. Sorta. Cloud cover actually does a pretty good job of jamming a sextant.

Ordinarily, I’m not at all in favor of gold-plating a system. Here, I’ll make a bit of an exception.  While having midshipmen pick up a sextant and the sight reduction tables is the best way to learn, I think it would  be pretty silly for the XO or Navigator to stand on the bridge wing shooting Local Apparent Noon with a 100 year old design.

Why not field a modern gyro stabilized star/sun tracker? And of course,  an iPad app that you simply input the sightings into. Heck, you could have that capability built into the star tracker.

This is not some fantastic idea I just came up with. Did you know some early  ballistic missiles used celestial navigation, with automatic trackers? Day or night, once the missile got up high enough above any clouds and most of the atmosphere, the needed stars were always visible.

The Navy (and the Army to a certain extent) desperately needs to relearn how to operate in an Emission Controlled (EMCON) environment. That means not only using EMCON to deny the enemy information, but also retaining the ability to work when networked sensors are denied or degraded. As fast as we are increasing our capability to field better capabilities through networks, you can bet China and others are working to disrupt or exploit those networks.

China’s Growler?

Spill passed along this little bit about China introducing a new version of the JH-7A Flounder for the Electronic Attack mission.

The People’s Liberation Army is hoping that its new JH-7A “Flying Leopard” fighter-bomber can help give China a much-needed boost in aerial electronic warfare, reports the Beijing-based Sina Military Network.

The JH-7A is an upgraded version of the JH-7 twin-engine fourth generation aircraft manufactured by the Xi’an Aircraft Industry Corporation. The fighter-bomber is said to be a major step forward in China’s bid for “electromagnetic supremacy,” the modern key to air supremacy in combat.

According to the report, the current problem with China’s electronic warfare lies in the low number of available platforms, inferior technology and average combat capabilities.

At present, the PLA only has two aircraft with electronic warfare and countermeasure capabilities — the HD-6, the electronic warfare variant of the H-6 jet bomber, and the Y-8G, the electronic warfare model of the Y-8 transport aircraft.

The baseline JH-7A Flounder serves as a long range precision strike aircraft in the PLAAF and as a long range maritime strike aircraft in the PLANAF.

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Yes, it greatly resembles a SEPECAT Jaguar, but it is a good deal larger, being powered by a Chinese made variant of the Rolls Royce Spey engine.

It’s unclear from the linked article whether the new EA mission will be fulfilled with a dedicated full time variant, or if it is simply a “podded” capability being added to the Flounder fleet. At any rate, it’s interesting in that very few countries operate dedicated electronic attack aircraft.

The US, of course, flies the EA-18G Growler, and the EA-6B Prowler. Germany operates the Tornado ECR, but that’s a Wild Weasel variant, not a jamming platform.  Australia has also bought the EA-18G. Most of our other allies, however, seem to presume that any air campaign will be conducted in cooperation with us, with the US supplying all the EA needed. After all, that’s been the template for the last 25 years.

China, of course, doesn’t see us supply EA coverage for any potential campaign. One wonders what possible campaigns they might contemplate? Area denial to the South China Sea? That is, EA attacks on US, Japanese, or Korean Aegis equipped destroyers?  Or maybe deep strike missions against Japan?

Bring The HEAT Podcast

Join Roamy, Spill and me, your host, XBrad for a discussion of space exploration, the F-35 vs. the F-16, and Cyberwarfare.

Other than for some reason the recording dropping the last 10 minutes of Roamy’s segment, it mostly went well. No animals were harmed in the making of this podcast.

You can stream the podcast here.

Continue reading “Bring The HEAT Podcast”

Electronic Warfare- grunt style

Almost as soon as electronics entered warfare, Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) began to appear. For instance, in the Battle of Port Arthur, wireless radio communications lead to jamming.

One of the most dangerous threats facing American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the Improvised Explosive Device, or IED. The vast amounts of explosives available in these countries, such as artillery ammunition, or ammonium nitrate fertilizer mixed with fuel oil, has led to some very creative mines and similar devices used to attack our troops.

Early on, most IEDs were triggered via either a pressure plate or command detonated by wire.  US troops quickly learned to spot most of these.* The enemy quickly learned to use a variety of radio frequency remote detonators, ranging from simple devices like the key fob used to unlock your car door, to garage door opener, to cell phones and other systems.

The Army quickly moved to counter these radio frequency (RF) remote detonators. Unfortunately, a quick reaction capability** meant the first generation of jammers were broad band devices designed to simply overwhelm any enemy signal. That had the knock on effect of often overpowering friendly use of the RF spectrum. As the Army and Marines began to grasp that RF controlled devices would almost certainly be a part of any future battlefield, they also began to work with industry to determine exactly what they want in ECM to counter the threat, field devices that could be used at every tactical echelon, require minimum training, space, weight and power, and best defeat the enemy without interfering with our own use of the RF spectrum. It should be noted, back in my day in the 80s and 90s, electronic warfare assets were held by the Military Intelligence battalion organic to each division. Teams might be attached to brigades or lower echelons, but there simply was no organic EW or ECM equipment in the maneuver battalions or their vehicles.

Today, virtually every echelon has their own equipment, be it large to defend an installation, vehicle mounted to protect a column of vehicles, or even manpack jammers to defend dismounted patrols.

Let’s take a look at some of the ECM gear in use today, and discuss some issues with them.

First, some terminology. The Army loves acronyms, and in recent years has even taken to embedding acronyms within acronyms. The series of jammers in use today are collectively referred to as CREW, or Counter Radio-Controlled-Improvised-Explosive-Device (RCIED) Electronic Warfare.

ECM systems might be used to protect entire Forward Operating bases. FOBs are popular targets for Vehicle Borne IED (such as a truck bomb) and while most VBIEDs aren’t radio command detonated, it never hurts to cover that contingency). These semi-fixed installations are beyond the scope our discussion today.

That leaves vehicle mounted and manpack CREW systems. Not every vehicle will mount a CREW system. The range of the system is sufficient that one jammer can cover a fairly good number of vehicles.  Secondly, not every vehicle has the power and space to mount one. Further, the costs imposed on adding CREW to certain vehicles, such as M1 tanks, is prohibitive, considering their relative invulnerability to most IEDs already.  Having said that, Humvee and MRAP units are commonly well equipped with CREW devices. Probably the most common one in use is the DUKE, or ULQ-35.

[scribd id=270222353 key=key-NANQb3E5b1qHtcdwYWq4 mode=scroll]

Note that DUKE isn’t continuously transmitting, but rather spends its time listening for possible enemy signals, and then automatically jams them, often times with very sophisticated waveforms and techniques. DUKE is a wideband system, and covers virtually the entire tactically significant RF spectrum.

But roadside bombs aren’t the only threat our troops face. Particularly in Afghanistan, dismounted patrols move through areas were RCIEDs are common. Those patrols need protection as well. The standard manpack IED jammer is the Thor III.

[scribd id=270222540 key=key-y3TfQxOdQNMUWlYWXpd8 mode=scroll]

You’ll notice there’s not one, but three manpacks in a Thor III system. Three packs are needed to cover the high, medium, and low bands. Unfortunately, that greatly increases the load of mission equipment a dismounted platoon has to carry.

Two_Soldiers_operate_Thor_and_Minehound

You’ll also note that the size of the pack means that each troop carrying one has no room to carry his own personal equipment such as food, water, and extra clothing. That means their load has to be spread about the rest of the platoon, further exacerbating the load carrying problem.

The Joint IED Defeat Organization, the DoD’s counter IED office, solicited proposals for a pack that would allow a troop to carry both loads, but cancelled the contract

Given the burden the system imposes on a platoon, one wonders if any commanders have conducted an operational risk assessment and occasionally decided to leave one or two of the packs behind and cover only the most likely threat band.

As this lengthy but interesting article from 2013 notes, currently Army and Marine Corps small unit electronic warfare is focused on force protection, but that is beginning to change:

The program office for electronic warfare is fielding an array of precision jammers, including some that target the triggers for radio-controlled improvised explosive devices and act as sensors to pinpoint the trigger man’s location. These new devices also extend to squads on foot and forward operating bases the protective bubble for wheeled vehicles.

“This is a significant shift from defense — protect your convoy, let’s just get through the day — to go on the offensive for enemy command and control,” said Mike Ryan, electronic warfare program manager at PEO IEW&S.

The next version of the CREW Duke for vehicles merges electronic warfare and cyberwarfare by conducting “protocol-based attacks,” said Ryan, “where you actually get into the system and displace ones and zeroes to break that communication chain between the trigger and the [radio-controlled] IED receiving those ones and zeroes.” This is part of a technology insertion over the next few years.

Basically, in addition to defeating the detonation of one IED, the technology will begin to defeat the enemy’s network. In addition to simply jamming enemy signals, distributed CREW systems will conduct ongoing Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) collection and Traffic Analysis collection. Each system will either record or retransmit its collection for analysis at higher headquarters, which can use this information to discern the enemy Order of Battle, chain of command, and potentially its capabilities and intentions. One suspects future systems will also be linked to an embedded GPS system capability to provide real time or near real time targeting capability.

We personally suspect that since future generations of tactical radios for friendly voice and data use will use software defined waveforms, they will also embed a jamming and EW/SIGINT capability, meaning that each friendly radio will also serve a CREW mission, thus reducing the number of devices needed at the tactical level, and reducing the physical and power burden on a given unit.

 

*Most. Not all. But a lot of training went into spotting possible IEDs and tell-tale signs of wires and pressure plates.

** Quick Reaction Capability or QRC means not that it acts quickly on the battlefield, but rather that the government was able to quickly contract with industry to field a capability to the forces. The solution is almost always imperfect, but it is at least there.

Grumman EF-111 Raven

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EF-111s from 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron in Upper Heyford, England format off the tanker.

The Grumman EF-111 Raven was the USAF’s counterpart to the Grumman EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft. In USAF service the “Spark ‘vark”  as it’s perhaps more commonly known, replaced the EB-66 Destroyer and the EB-57 Canberra.

9-1
The Grumman EF-111 Raven first flew on 10 March 1977.

 

The first fully equipped EF-111 first flew on 10 March 1977 using a modified F-111. A grand total of 42 old F-111 airframes were produced at a cost to taxpayers of $1.5 Billion.

In terms of flight control the EF-111 (by modern standards) is pretty straight forward. As with the standard F-111,  there are no ailerons, as roll is controlled differentially by the horizontal stabilators and at low speeds spoilers on the upper surface of the variable geometry wings. Pitch is controlled by both horizontal stabilators and the rudder acts to correct adverse yaw. There are also tangential ventral fins that add to high-speed longitudinal stability.

Even though the Raven can be seen as a counterpart to the Navy’s Prowler there are some key differences.

Metric Prowler Raven
Maximum Speed (mph) 651 1460
Range (miles) 2400 (with drop tanks; usually carried) 2,000
Ceiling (ft) 37,600 45,000
Rate of climb (ft/min) 12,900 11,000
Thrust/weight ratio (lbs/ft) 0.34 0.598

These performance differences enabled the Raven to do some things operationally that the Prowler could not. The Raven could keep up with supersonic strike aircraft like the F-111 and later the F-15E in the escort strike role. However the Raven doesn’t have the endurance that the Prowler had because of a few factors. The Raven has a crew of 2, limiting the crew tasking loading for a given mission. The Prowler has a crew of 4 enabling more tasks to be spread to more crew members. The Raven uses “flying boom” method for aerial refueling which limits the tanker aircraft to refuel the aircraft to USAF-only tanking assets. The Prowler had the ability for fire the AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) while the Raven did not.

800px-AGM-88E_HARM_p1230047Both aircraft did use the AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS). The Raven specifically used the AN/ALQ-99E variant which had more automation for the 2 crew members and about 70% commonality with the Prowlers TJS (at least the earlier versions of the TJS).

The EF-111 houses components of the AN/ALQ-99E within the aircraft. The most visible changes to the EF-111 are the “canoe” in the ventral fuselage (that replaced the PAVE TACK pod in the F-111 variants, the “football” atop the vertical stabalitor, and an antenna on each wing glove for the ALQ-137 low/mid/high band reciever (port) and the ALR-62 forward RWR (starboard).

66-056 Tail
Components of the AN/ALQ-99E are seen on the “football” atop the vertical tail.
EF111s
This EF-111 show the ventral “canoe” fairing stowing the components of the AN/ALQ-99E TJS. The bullet fairing top is the AN/ALQ-137 multi-band receiver.

 

ef111ravencutaway
EF-111 cutaway. Click to embiggenify.

 

Operationally, the first EF-111s were deployed in November 1981 to the 388th Tactical Electronic Squadron, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. From 1984 to 1992 the –111 saw service with the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron (part of the 20 Tactical Fighter Wing) at RAF Upper Heyford, UK. The –111 also saw service with the 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon AFB in the 429th (1992-1998) and the 430th (1992-1993) Electronic Combat Squadrons. Also at Mountain Home AFB with the 388th (1981-1982) and the 390th (1982-1992) Electronic Combat Squadrons.

The EF-111 first saw combat with the 20th TFW as part of Operation El Dorado Canyon against Libya in 1986. Then during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989.

The largest EF-111 deployment for the EF-111 was Operation Desert Storm. The 18 EF-111s in the AOR flew over 900 sorties with a mission capable rate of 87.5 % mission capable rate. EF-1111 frequently operated with the F-4G and because the Iraqis feared the F-4G and its HARM missile, they made brief, limited and ineffective use of their radars. When they did choose to operate these radars, the effective jamming of the EF-111 negated their ability to track, acquire, and target attacking aircraft. Every day the Weasels and Ravens supported shooters as they attacked their targets in Iraq and the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations (KTO). One sign of their success was that after day four, all allied aircraft operated with impunity in the mid to high altitude environment across the AOR. By decreasing the threat of SAMs to our strike aircraft, EF-111s and F-4Gs permitted aircraft to deliver their weapons from an environment where they can be very lethal.

A notable event was a “maneuver” kill by an EF-111 of an Iraqi Air Force Mirage F-1EQ on the opening night of Desert Storm:

On the first night of the war, Captain Brent Brandon was flying his EF-111 “Spark Vark” on an electronic warfare mission ahead of a group of jets on a bombing run. Several IRAF Dassault Mirage F1s came in and engaged the flight. One of them went after the unarmed EF-111. Captain Brandon executed a tight turn and launched chaff to avoid the missiles being fired by the Mirage. A F-15 on the same flight, piloted by Robert Graeter, went after the Mirage trying to protect the EF-111. The Mirage launched a missile which the Raven avoided by launching chaff. Captain Brandon decided to head for the deck to try to evade his pursuer. As he went down he pulled up to avoid the ground, the Mirage followed him through, though the Mirage went straight into the ground. An unarmed EF-111 thus scored an air-air victory against a Dassault Mirage F1, although Graeter was credited with a kill. The EF-111A pilots won the Distinguished Flying Cross

An Iraqi Air Force Mirage F-1EQ.
An Iraqi Air Force Mirage F-1EQ.

The aircraft was EF-111 66-0016 and is on display at the Cannon AFB Museum:

EF-111 66-0016 on outside display at Cannon AFB New Mexico.
EF-111 66-0016 on outside display at Cannon AFB New Mexico.

There was one combat loss of the EF-111 during Desert Storm:

On 13 February 1991, EF-111A, AF Ser. No. 66-0023, callsign Ratchet 75, crashed[11] into terrain while maneuvering to evade a perceived enemy aircraft threat killing the pilot, Capt Douglas L. Bradt, and the EWO, Capt Paul R. Eichenlaub

After Desert Storm the F-111 also flew missions in Operation Provide Comfort,Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch.

The victory from Desert Storm was shoret lived. The last deployment of the Spark ‘vark was 1998 to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arablia. Due to the aircraft’s age the USAF decided to retire the aircraft and the last EF-111s were retired on 2 May 1998, at Cannon AFB, New Mexico.

Aside from the EC-130, and the later “acquisition” (if you will) of the Prowler, the USAF pretty much ignored tactical electronic warfare. You can pick up that part of the story here.

 

EF-111 retied at AMARG.
EF-111 retired at AMARG.

Environmentalists Don’t Know Jack About Science

The EF-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft is primarily known for its mission of jamming enemy air defense radars, and suppressing them with the AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile.

The Navy hasn’t been spending a lot of time in well defensed airspace lately, though. What it has been doing is exploiting or denying virtually all of the radio frequency electromagnetic spectrum in the fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.

In order to accomplish its mission in these places, of course the crews must train realistically before deploying. Since the Growlers are stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, WA,  most of the training will take place there. It’s not so much that you can’t move the planes. It’s that the need for coordination with the crews and the trainers requires that the training be done in close enough proximity that both elements can communicate face to face regularly.

There has long been a limited EW training site at NAS Whidbey, mostly to practice jamming air defenses. But in order to better train for the far more complex electromagnetic environment of today, the Navy has proposed an EW training range consisting of a series of emitters scattered around the region, including on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula.

Of course, the Navy can’t do anything without an Environmental Assessment. And of course, that has to be open to public comment. Which is fine.

Of course, there is more than a small number of people who proudly claim the title of environmentalist in the area, and view any use of the lands in question as inherently evil, unless it consists of them driving their Subaru to the trailhead.

Hiking is very popular in that part of Washington. And so are hiking blogs.

The rugged, beautiful Washington Coast and the rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula will soon be the site of War Games conducted by the United States Military. In 2015, the United States plans to test and refine our ability to use and maintain electromagnetic weapons in our National Forest lands.  Pumping radiation out of towers at 14 locations, including stations on the Quinault, Queets, Hoh rivers and rain forests, the US military is saying that there is little to no risk to humans or large animals in the region.

Of course, we’re not dealing with an expert here.

While I am neither an environmental or military expert, testing any level of radiation in or around  National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks seems like a terrible idea. Maybe it was one too many episodes of the X-Files, but I don’t necessarily trust everything that is spoon fed to us via regular news sources. Luckily, I am not alone.

I don’t trust everything spoon fed to me by regular news sources either. But I do trust physics, even as little as I understand them.

According to the reports linked above, 15 minutes of exposure from the radiation can severely damage the eyes and other sensitive skin. If this level of radiation can cause harm to people over 15 minutes, what exactly will it be doing to the birds and large mammals in the region? What is it going to do to the millions of pounds of slugs, spiders, bees and other small creatures?

I suppose if you stood right in front of a parabolic antenna long enough, yes, just like a microwave it would begin to cook you. But standing in front of the dishes would be difficult, as they’re going to be aimed upward. You’d have a challenge just getting into the path of the beam.

Of course, simply saying “radiation” freaks out all the environmental types.

Elizabeth Keating says:

October 10, 2014 at 1:18 pm

This is absolutely horrible. With all our concerns about environment, and all the woods that are already logged around this park everyday! How dare the military think they can abuse our beautiful park this way. It’s an abomination.

Sara Luna says:

October 11, 2014 at 12:05 pm

“”“Set up in this direction, the mobile emitters pose no threat to people or animals below the emitters on the ground. Risk to animals or humans would only occur if they put themselves in the direct path of the signal, above the emitter, and within 100 feet of the emitter beam for an extended period of time. As an added measure of safety, the Navy has mandated that crews shut down the emitters if people or animals are within the 100-foot safety zone around these vans when the systems are sending out the skyward signal,” Nakahara said.”” How on earth are they going to inform/stop the animals from staying away from the “beam”?!?
This is aweful! That mountain range and rain forests are so unique to our coast. No where else will we find an environment like it. Thank you for informing us. I will wait until the site is up, to leave my voice. We need to be the voice for this Washington gem!

kt says:

October 12, 2014 at 6:40 pm

To add these levels of radiation to this area, is too much, any radiation is too much. Compounded with what is coming this way via Fukushima and who knows what other disaster is next. THE EARTH MOVES…therefore only a matter of time until another nuclear reactor melts down, not to mention ones KNOWINGLY built on a fault as was Fukushima. What are you people trying to do? Annihilate the human race, destroy our ecosystem further than you already have, in our National Forests using our tax dollars? What part of NO don’t you understand? No! Stop! Why don’t all you boys who are so eager to play war do it on Mars? We’ll lend our tax dollars to get you the hell off this planet. It doesn’t belong to you. Wake UP!

That last one was my personal favorite.

Of course, pointing out that the emitters were pretty much less of a threat than cell phones led to a long discursion about how cell phones totally cause cancer, because some dude in Europe did a study. Yeah, well, some dude in Europe also “proved” cold fusion.

Still, not all is lost. The latest comment when I looked actually was pretty smart.

Rod Farlee says:

October 15, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Neighbors, today we have much more accurate short term weather forecasts in the western Olympic Peninsula, thanks to a successful 15-year effort to install a new doppler weather radar covering the Washington coast. It is located on Langley Hill near Copalis Beach. http://www.atmos.washington.edu/cliff/Langleyradar.html

It transmits FIFTY TIMES the peak pulse microwave power of the proposed Navy radar simulators, and FIVE TIMES the average power. This high power is necessary for it to detect Doppler shifts in the returned signal, giving rainfall rates and wind speeds. It fills a gap, because the Olympic Mountains block Seattle’s Doppler radar. It is very useful and completely harmless.

Has it damaged the environment in any way? No.

Is the fear of the much weaker proposed Navy transmitters, having similar power output to hundreds of marine radars in use for decades by cargo and fishing vessels on the Olympic coast, rational? No.

Cutaway Thursday: Boeing E/A-18G Growler

Boeing’s E/A-18 Growler is the latest in a long line of electronic attack aircraft, with the previous aircraft being Grumman’s venerable EA-6B Prowler. The resemblance to the F/A-18F Super Hornet is obvious as that’s where the Growler is derived. Notable differeneces include the (ugraded to ICAP III, I beleive) ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) that was inherited from the Prowler. In addition to TJS the Growler also lacks the gun no the nose. Unlike the Prowler however the Growler can carry the AIM-120 AMRAAM on the cheek pylons to add a measure of self defence.

Boeing EA-18G Growler cutaway small

Somewhere along the line, the Navy’s nomenclature for “electronic warfare” (EW) became “electronic attack.” My theory that is in the past 10 years we’ve seen a “blurring of the lines” between offensive EW and cyber warfare but that’s another discussion for another post.

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.