Electronic Warfare

What’s next for the US Navy’s future airborne jammer?

WASHINGTON — Following the first successful flight test for the initial set of updated airborne jamming pods, the U.S. Navy now expects to head toward simultaneous flight and chamber tests, with a decision for low-rate initial production in February 2021.

The test in mid-August marked the first time the Next Generation Jammer Mid-Band pod flew aboard the EA-18G Growler aircraft.

The jammer is the Navy’s premier aerial electronic attack platform that will replace the ALQ-99 jamming pod. It is broken into three pods covering three portions of the electromagnetic spectrum: mid, low and high.

Raytheon was awarded the mid-band pod in 2016.

The program’s manager, Capt. Michael Orr, told C4ISRNET in an Aug. 14 interview that the next major milestone for the program will be the Milestone C decision, which will lead to procurement with low-rate initial production. He also said the service wants to reach Milestone C by the end of this year, with the expectation for low-rate initial production slated for February 2021.

The program will plan a series of tests of the pod both aboard the aircraft during flight and in a chamber where its limits can be tested and the technology accurately measured.

Some of the flight tests will involve pods designed to provide the size and weight of the eventual system to allow pilots to test how the aircraft maneuvers with it. The first flight test didn’t involve jamming. Orr stated that the Navy stopped short of the pod radiating, noting there wasn’t an expectation to radiate in the next several flights.

Developmental and operational tests will take place at a variety of locations, he said, to include chamber work at Patuxent River, Maryland; Point Mugu, California; and Crane, Indiana, all of which will occur simultaneously amid various flight tests.

The official operational test is slated for January 2022, Orr said, noting that the initial operational capability for the pod is scheduled for 2022.

The Navy is expected to field 135 ship sets of the mid-band pod, with each ship set being two pods, Orr said. The new jammer will also fly alongside the legacy ALQ-99 until the older tech is ultimately replaced by the three next-generation pods.

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