Electronic Warfare

Watchdog discovers problems with Navy jammer

Congress’ watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, found that the Navy has yet to fully demonstrate critical technologies in the mid-band portion of the service’s future airborne electronic jamming system.

In its annual report on defense acquisitions, the GAO pointed to technology maturity, design stability and software and cybersecurity problems with the Next Generation Jammer-mid band pod.

The Navy’s plan to replace the ALQ-99 jamming pod has been broken up into three pods covering three portions of the electromagnetic spectrum: mid, low and high.

The pods will be outfitted to EA-18G Growlers. The Navy awarded the mid band pod to Raytheon in 2016. Bids are out for the low band pod. The timeline for high band is unclear at this time.

The GAO found that the mid band program had yet to fully demonstrate the maturity of its critical technologies or stability of its design, which is inconsistent with best practices.

“Until the program fully matures its critical technologies – by demonstrating each in a final form, fit, and function within a realistic environment – the program’s design faces risk of change,” GAO said.

However, the program plans to demonstrate this technology ahead of its planned production decision in September. That milestone is for low rate initial production contract.

Despite entering system development in April 2016 with seven critical technologies and ground testing of the pod beginning in November 2019, the program office didn’t plan to have these critical technologies fully mature, integrated and flight tested until March.

GAO conducted its review in January.

A news release from Naval Air Systems Command in mid-March said the mid band pod completed a portion of developmental testing and that the pod was expected to enter flight testing this spring.

GAO also noted that in April 2017, the program discovered design deficiencies with the pod’s structure at critical design review. Those problems contributed to a one-year schedule delay and a more than $400 million increase in development cost.

According to DoD budget documents released in February, the Navy planed to spend $176.6 million in procurement dollars and $477.6 million in research and development dollars for fiscal year 2021 for the mid band program.

GAO reported issues with the mid band pod’s software development, citing program officials identifying it a risk because the software effort was more difficult than expected. Those officials noted it has been difficult to find and hire government and contractor staff with necessary expertise to perform the work on time.

Moreover, since the pod is dependent upon the Growler’s software, which have evolved, the program has had to evolve in kind.

An evaluation for cybersecurity vulnerabilities was planned to be completed in April, the report said. NAVAIR told GAO that it plans to deliver a single software product to the fleet, though, that process takes 13 months to develop.

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