We Now Know America’s Plan to Beat Russia or China’s Air Defenses

Sebastien Roblin

Security,

The Next Generation Jammer.

We Now Know America’s Plan to Beat Russia or China’s Air Defenses

As radars and radar-guided antiaircraft missiles continue to grow in range and sophistication, jamming and other forms of electronic warfare will remain vital means for air power to survive over the battle spaces of the future. The Next Generation Jammer is the Pentagon’s attempt to counter new advances in air-defense radars—while adding to its bag of electronic tricks.

U.S. warplanes flying over Syria today find themselves operating within the range of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles. While the U.S. military is unlikely to intentionally attack Russian forces in Syria, the situation highlights the importance of suppressing enemy air defenses—one major tactic U.S. flyers have long relied upon is radar jamming, or saturating enemy radars with “noise” and false signals so that they can’t track and fire upon friendly airplanes. The U.S. Navy has relied on the ALQ-99 jamming system for nearly half a century, even as opposing radars grew in ability. However, by the beginning of the next decade it will begin fielding the superior Next Generation Jammer, boasting significant electronic-attack and signal-intelligence capabilities.

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The powerful ALQ-99 tactical jamming pod first entered U.S. Navy service in 1971, carried by the EA-6 Prowler, an electronic-warfare variant of the A-6 Intruder carrier-based attack plane with a four-man crew. The U.S. Air Force eventually supplemented the Prowler with faster and larger EF-111 Ravens, informally known as Spark Varks because of the intense static buildup their jammers generated. Both planes proved effective in suppressing air defenses in Iraq and Libya. However, the Raven was withdrawn from service early in 1998, as the imminent retirement of the F-111 fleet made it prohibitively expensive to operate. Seventeen years later, the Navy retired its aging EA-6s in favor of new EA-18G Growlers—special electronic-warfare variants of the F-18 Super Hornet. The two-seat Growlers are much faster and better armed, but must rely on automation to make up for the reduction in crew size.

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The Marine Corps will continue to fly its Prowlers until retirement in 2019, leaving the Growler as the sole remaining tactical jammer. Overall,…

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