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Modernisation Of Electronic Warfare Aircraft Fleet Of US Air Force

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Modernisation Of Electronic Warfare Aircraft Fleet Of US Air Force

An EC-130H Compass Call flies a training mission over Lake Mead, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Written by Colonel S. Pogodin; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2020 #3, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront

In the US doctrinal documents, superiority from a position of strength is considered as an “effective” tool for implementing the national interests of the state. At the same time, the main role in solving this problem is assigned by the American leadership to the national Air Force. At the same time, it is noted that in the conditions of a rapid increase in the capabilities of modern air defence systems by the main opponents of the United States, primarily Russia and China, the American Air Force may not achieve air superiority.

A significant contribution to the task of gaining air superiority is made by the forces and means of electronic warfare (EW). According to the US military leadership, their use can significantly reduce the loss of flight personnel and aircraft during a military operation.

In accordance with the instructions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, e-war (Electronic Warfare) is defined as: “…any actions of troops (forces) that involved the use of energy of electromagnetic waves (radiation) and directed energy to control the use of the electromagnetic spectrum or direct influence on the enemy”.

EW consists of three interrelated and mutually complementary elements: electronic attack (EA), electronic protection, and provision (support) by the EW system.

An electronic attack involves the use of electromagnetic radiation energy, directed energy and weapons homing in on electromagnetic radiation to affect the enemy’s personnel, infrastructure, weapons and military equipment in order to reduce or suppress its combat capabilities (combat capability), up to the point of depriving it of the ability to continue military (combat) operations in general

EW, which is considered a form of defeating the enemy, assumes that:

  • actions aimed at preventing or reducing the effectiveness of the use of the electromagnetic spectrum by the opposing party by suppressing its control systems for troops (forces) and weapons that use electromagnetic energy (for example, violation, obstruction, disruption or deception by using systems and means of electromagnetic suppression or disinformation);
  • the use of radiated electromagnetic energy (including directed energy) as the main destructive (damaging and/or destructive) mechanism for influencing enemy objects (primarily electronic means) by using systems, means or weapons of functional electromagnetic destruction.

To carry out electronic attack tasks, the US Air Force tactical aviation has 13 electronic warfare aircraft (EW) EC-130N “Compass Call”, which are in service with the 41st and 43rd Squadrons of the 55th EW group of the 55th air wing. All machines are part of the regular forces and assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (Arizona).

The EC-130N “Compass Call” electronic warfare aircraft are a group protection aircraft designed for radio and radio intelligence and suppression of radar detection, radio communication, radio navigation and identification systems in order to disrupt the control of enemy air defence forces and aircraft. In addition, they were used to suppress radio control lines for the detonation of improvised explosive devices (including using cellular communications), as well as control systems for UAVs of illegal armed groups during operations in Afghanistan and Syria.

The aircraft crew consist of 13 people: four of them (the crew commander, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer) are the flight crew, the remaining nine are responsible for the use of the on-board electromagnetic warfare.

The main method of using the EC-130N is jamming from a zone beyond the reach of enemy air defence systems.

The typical application scheme involves this aircraft barging over its territory at a distance of approximately 70 km from the contact line between the troops and the task of suppressing the enemy’s electronic weapons systems to a depth of 300 km.

The basis of the onboard equipment set of the EW EC-130N is the subsystem of radio intelligence and suppression “TRACS-C” (Tactical Radio Acquisition and Countermeasures Subsystem), including radio interference stations AN/ALQ-175, AN/ALQ-198 and AN/ALQ-173 (the latter allows the creation of flickering interference with mono-pulse radars), which provide radio reconnaissance in the range of 20-1500 MHz, setting barrage and frequency-targeted interference, as well as transmitting disinformation messages.

A set of radio interference transmitters with a power of 800 W allows simultaneous interference to 20 radio lines (radio networks) operating in the range from 20 to 20,000 MHz.

On the EC-130N aircraft of the modification block 35, a SPEAR suspended container with a phased array antenna is installed, including 144 discrete receiving and transmitting modules. This container provides intelligence and radio suppression in the range of 0.01-3 GHz on four automatically generated independent lobes of the antenna pattern.

In connection with the gradual development of the assigned resource of the EC-130N, the US Air Force command is actively engaged in the modernisation of the EW aircraft fleet. In July 2018, BAE Systems began work on transferring most of the EW equipment (about 70%) from the EC-130N to the EC-37B (the military version of the Gulfstream G550). The first two machines are scheduled to be commissioned by 2023. In total, the US Air Force command plans to purchase 10 new EC-37B EW aircraft. According to a number of flight characteristics, the EC-37B aircraft surpasses the EC-130N.

The increase in the cruising speed of the EU-37B will improve the speed at which the EW aircraft web is moved to areas of operation, as well as the use of such a method of covering the combat formations of strike aircraft as an electronic attack, a method of covering the combat procedures of strike aviation, when escorted out of combat without entering the area of enemy air defence assets with a known location.

The practical flight range of the EC-37B has more than doubled, allowing for a reduction in the number of refuellings on the ground during transfers to remote operational theaters, expenditure of other material and technical resources and the number of personnel involved in the maintenance of aviation equipment.

The operational ceiling of the new machine, which is twice as high as the same indicator of the EC-130N, is higher than the upper echelon of civil aviation, which will not only ensure greater flight safety to remote operational theaters, but also increase the range of conducting radio and radio intelligence by 30%, which will allow for electronic suppression of a larger number of enemy electronic objects.

Due to the relatively small run-up length (1801 m) and mileage (844 m), the EC-37B can be used from airfields with runways of up to 2000 m long.

In addition, an important advantage in the operation of these machines, according to the leadership of the US Air Force, is a projected 50% reduction in the cost of maintaining (servicing) the fleet of the new machines.

However, despite all the advantages of the EC-37B electronic warfare aircraft, there are also a number of problematic issues.

So, after equipping this aircraft with an electronic warfare system, its flight performance will decrease slightly (due to the deterioration of aerodynamics due to the additional installation of antenna systems).

The EW equipment currently placed on this aircraft does not allow radio and electronic reconnaissance and suppression in the range from 470 to 614 MHz, as the existing antennas in this range are not designed for use at high speeds and flight heights due to increased aerodynamic loads and the development of new antennas was not included in the re-equipment programme.

Thus, the successful implementation of the re-equipment programme, will allow the leadership of the US Air Force to update the fleet of electronic warfare aircraft, the first two of which will enter service by 2023, which will increase the effectiveness of ensuring the actions of strike aircraft, as well as reduce operating costs.

Modernisation Of Electronic Warfare Aircraft Fleet Of US Air Force

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