This is the second story we’re lifting from USNI News today.
Since its introduction in 1970 aboard the EA-6B Prowler, the ALQ-99 jammer has been the premier airborne electronic warfare system for jamming air defense radar systems. Today, still aboard the EA-6B, it also forms the heart of the EF-18G Growler’s jamming capability.
Originally, the Q-99 had to counter technology such as the Fan Song and Fire Can radars. But over the years, the threat radar systems have become much more sophisticated, and far more resistant to jamming. Further, the sheer numbers of radars in contested airspace have grown. The Q-99 has evolved with those advances, keeping pace with the changing threat. But there is a limit to how far the basic architecture of any system can evolve. There comes a point where a fresh start is the better approach.
And so, about the time the US Navy decided the Prowler would be replaced with a variant of the two-seat SuperHornet, it also decided to begin work on a replacement for the venerable ALQ-99. The program became known as the Next Generation Jammer, or NGJ.
Now, sometimes, a program to replace a given piece of hardware just makes plain old sense. And NGJ is one of them. It became clear almost 20 years ago, a new jammer would be needed eventually to face sophisticated Russian air defense systems such as the S-300 and S-400 and their associated radars.
As it turns out, airborne jamming systems also can do some other pretty interesting stuff, such as jamming communications systems. But the primary mission is and will be jamming radars. So you’d think setting up a program to replace the ALQ-99 would be rather straighforward. You’d be wrong.
The procurement system today is set up so that the Office of the Secretary of Defense oversees virtually every major procurement program. And OSD and the acquisition system are set up so that traditional roles need not carry any real weight in the decision making process. If a better, cheaper way to accomplish a traditional mission can be found via a non-traditional method, so be it.
The problem is, the only way to determine if that can be done is by in-depth analysis. And that analysis takes time. And it also operates on precepts given to the analysis team that may or may not be rooted in reality.
So here we are, a decade after the inception of the Next Generation Jammer program. And instead of designing, testing, and deploying the NGJ, what we’re dealing with today is a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that tells us what any sailor in a Prowler or Growler squadron could have told you off the top of their head.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has assessed whether the planned Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) program is duplicative using a variety of means, but none of them address all of the system’s planned roles or take into account the military services’ evolving airborne electronic attack investment plans.
DOD analyses support its conclusion that the NGJ meets a valid need and is not duplicative of existing capabilities in its primary role—suppressing enemy air defenses from outside the range of known surface-to-air missiles.
However, these analyses do not address all planned NGJ roles, such as communications jamming in irregular warfare environments, or take into account the military services’ evolving airborne electronic attack investment plans.
According to GAO’s analysis, none of the systems that have emerged since DOD completed its NGJ analyses duplicate its planned capabilities; however there is some overlap in the roles they are intended to perform.
Redundancy in some of these areas may, in fact, be desirable. However, pursuing multiple acquisition efforts to develop similar capabilities can result in the same capability gap being filled twice or more, lead to inefficient use of resources, and contribute to other warfighting needs going unfilled. Therefore, continued examination of potential overlap and duplication among these investments may be warranted.
It’s frightful enough that time has been wasted studying the issue for years, and arguing over just what NGJ must be capable of doing, all while the legacy ALQ-99 system becomes less and less capable of defeating enemy systems.
The fact is, time is money. NGJ has had a program office, with staff (and salaries and all the other related expenses) for years. And the program office has spent years letting contracts to various defense industries to study and define what NGJ should be, and what it shouldn’t. And GAO has spent time and money studying the issue, only to tell us what we already know- that yes, a replacement for Q-99 is a good idea.
Can we start printing circuit cards now?