NGJ and Growler: Maximizing Operational Life

U.S. Navy officials with insight into the Next-Generation Jammer (NGJ) and EA-18G Growler predict a lot of challenges in making them affordable, interoperable and upgradable enough to get the maximum capability out of them for as much as 40-50 years.

“Electronic warfare battle management and cooperative electronic attack are interrelated and we’re going to absolutely procure what we need,” says Navy Capt. John Green, program manager for airborne electronic attack (AEA). “The enemy will not be static. They look for creative ways to make problems that we don’t understand or know about sometimes. NGJ is high in technology but very expensive. The pledge from the Pentagon is to get every ounce of capability possible and make it as cheap as possible. It’s the only way we’re going to control asymmetric warfare.”

This is the quandary at the heart of AEA that is only going to get worse. Foes are making rapid advances with non-kinetic weapons, networked command and control and cyber intrusions using cheap, commercially available electronics that will cost the U.S. a lot of money to counter.

Part of the answer is to turn away from designing new, specialized, air, ground and ship platforms and shift the available defense funding to networked and readily upgradable systems that use existing or cheap unmanned designs.

NGJ is a case in point. It is to be installed first in the EA-18G Growler that spun out of the Hornet strike fighter that has been around for decades. Plans to put the NGJ system — designed to attack enemy electronics with jamming, pulses of high-power microwaves and packets of algorithms to infiltrate enemy networks – may not be installed on the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter due to cost issues and the availability of manned airframes to dedicate to ISR missions.

Instead, the anti-electronics system will likely migrate to both large and small penetrating unmanned aircraft. These new designs — often referred to now as adjunct platforms — will have roll-on/roll-off payloads that allow them to perform specialized missions with a minimum of transformation time.

“AEA provided by the Growler is central to the continued warfighting success of Navy aviation and the rest of the military,” says Richard Gilpin, deputy assistant navy secretary for air programs. “While NGJ is not the only program of note in the AEA system of systems, it is clearly the most important. With government pressure on the [defense budget] topline, we truly have to understand what it will take to get it done, and then we have to make the investment.”

Criticism of buying high-cost electronic attack and exploitation capabilities is countered by the desire to keep EW and AEA operationally relevant and an anticipated lifetime of up to 50 years for some of the new systems. Also, the internal Pentagon arguments about whether the spectrum should be its own warfighting domain are considered specious by some senior commanders.

“We’ve done a lot of research on the future and early in the process we were looking at how to map the domains,” says Rear Adm. David Woods, director of the Navy’s strategy and policy division. “It doesn’t matter whether the spectrum is a domain or the connective tissues [that link all] those domains. We have a challenge to maintain spectrum superiority. That means being able to maintain spectrum superiority. That means being able to maintain the spectrum for our use and deny it to the adversary, and it has to be integrated to stop fratricide on our own systems. We have to have a strategy that allows us to tie technology investments to the [intelligence specialties] we value.”


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