Navy moves Next-Gen Jammer electronic warfare to next phase

By designing an electronic warfare jammer able to jam on multiple frequencies, the Next-Generation Jammer is expected to defeat cutting edge air defenses.

The Navy is hoping that a new, more powerful, high-tech electronic warfare jamming technology will allow strike aircraft to destroy enemy targets without being detected by modern surface-to-air missile defenses.

Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is adding its Next-Generation Jammer (NGJ) technology into its next Increment 2 phase to prepare the electronic warfare system to disable advanced enemy air defenses.

According to a recent draft statement of objective, NAVAIR is asking industry to come up with technologies for the low-band transmitters, which is used to jam early warning radars. A report from FlightGlobal said that the objective is to solicit bidders for a preliminary demonstration contract.

Given the pace of technological change, and the extent to which cutting-edge air defenses are rapidly being upgraded, Navy and industry engineers are planning for the emerging NGJ to be ready by the early 2020s.

The NGJ consists of two 15-foot-long PODs beneath the EA-18G Growler aircraft designed to emit radar-jamming electronic signals; one jammer goes on each side of the aircraft.  

Radar technology sends an electromagnetic ping forward, bouncing it off objects before analyzing the return signal to determine a target's location, size, shape and speed.  However, if the electromagnetic signal is interfered with, thwarted or jammed in some way, the system is then unable to detect the objects, or target. 

The NGJ can jam multiple frequencies at the same time, Navy and Raytheon officials said.

The emerging system uses a high-powered radar technology called Active Electronic Scanned Array, or AESA.

The NGJ is intended to replace the existing ALQ 99 electronic warfare jammer currently on Navy Growler aircraft. One of the drawbacks to ALQ 99 is that it was initially designed 40 years ago and is challenged to keep up with modern, digital threats with phased array radars, increased power, increased processing and more advanced wave forms, Navy developers explained.  

The NGJ is being built with open architecture so that it can quickly integrate new technologies as threats emerge. For example, threat libraries or databases incorporated into a radar warning receiver can inform pilots of specific threats such as enemy fighter aircraft or air defenses. If new adversary aircraft become operational, the system can be upgraded to incorporate that information.

While radar warning receivers are purely defensive technologies, the NGJ is configured with offensive jamming capabilities in support of strike aircraft such as an F/A-18 Super Hornet or F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The jammer is intended to preemptively jam enemy radars and protect aircraft by preventing air defenses from engaging.

The NGJ could be particularly helpful when it comes to protecting fighter aircraft and stealth platforms like the B-2 bomber, the Long Range Strike-Bomber and the F-35 multi-role stealth fighter. The technology is designed to block, jam, thwart or blind enemy radar systems so to allow attack aircraft to enter a target area, conduct strikes and then safely exit.

This is useful in today’s modern environment because radar-evading stealth configurations, by themselves, are no longer as dominant or effective against current and emerging air defense technologies.

Today’s modern air defenses, such as the Russian-made S-300 and multi-function S-400 surface-to-air missiles, will increasingly be able to detect stealth aircraft at longer distances and on a wider range of frequencies. Today’s most cutting-edge systems, and those being engineered for the future, use much faster computer processors, digital technology and network more to one another.

Developers explain that cutting-edge multi-function radars are more difficult to attack, however they are something the NGJ can succeed against.

The NGJ is engineered to jam and defeat both surveillance radar technology which can alert defenses that an enemy aircraft is in the area as well as higher-frequency engagement radar which allow air defenses to target, track and destroy attacking aircraft.

Engineers say the NGJ can jam anything that emits or receives and RF frequency in the frequency range of NGJ.

The Navy awarded Raytheon a $1 billion sole source contract for Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) for Increment 1 of the NGJ, the advanced electronic attack technology that combines high-powered, agile, beam-jamming techniques with cutting-edge, solid-state electronics, a Raytheon statement said.

Raytheon was tasked with delivering 15 Engineering Development Model PODs for mission systems testing and qualification, and 14 aeromechanical pods for airworthiness certification.

The NGJ contract also covers designing and delivering simulators and prime hardware to government labs and support for flight testing and government system integration, Raytheon officials said.

Overall, the Navy plans to buy as many as 135 sets of NGJs for the Growler. At the same time, Navy developers did say it is possible that the NGJ will be integrated onto other aircraft in the future.