WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman said it successfully demonstrated interoperability during a recent test of a new electronic warfare system meant for F-16s.
During the Northern Lightning Air Force exercise, which took place in August at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, aboard a Canadair Regional Jet, the company says it tested using the APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar, which the company is providing to the Air Force, and what it is calling the Next Generation Electronic Warfare System, an ultrawideband system that detects the radio frequency environment to decide which signals to jam.
Company officials said it’s critical both aircraft subsystems — the active electronically scanned array radar, which is nearly identical to those aboard F-35s and F-22s, and the EW system — can perform their roles without interfering or degrading each other.
“You needed it to be interoperable with the other subsystems and one of those other key subsystems is the advanced AESA. Because you don’t want electronic warfare to have a negative impact on AESA, you don’t want AESA to have a negative impact on electronic warfare,” James Conroy, Northrop’s vice president for navigation, targeting and survivability, told C4ISRNET. The EW system is “a survivability function. AESAs aren’t typically only doing survivability, they’re doing other situational awareness as well as targeting capabilities. You have subsystems that are doing different functions, and you need both those functions to be able to operate simultaneously.”
Northrop representatives also noted the company built the EW system to be compatible with the radar.
The system flew against over 170 test points and against Joint Threat Emitters on the ground, which simulate advanced radars.
Conroy said the test was the first demonstration of the EW system outside a lab environment. During the exercise, the company took the system to an airborne platform and flew it against simulated threats while also having to operate with other aircraft and radars in the same airspace.
“During Northern Lightning, we gained valuable insight on NGEW capabilities,” Lt Col. Stephen Graham, F-16 electronic warfare test director of the Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force, said in a news release. “We are one step closer to installing the first NGEW suite on an Eglin F-16 in less than one year.”
While the Next Generation Electronic Warfare System is not in production for the Air Force, Northrop did win an other transaction authority award last year to develop the system using existing technology. Since the award, Northrop has been working with the Air Force to showcase how it can interact with the F-16, its subsystems and other critical capabilities.
This work is part of the F-16 modernization efforts the Air Force has undertaken. Because the aircraft has been flying for decades — long before modern technological threats on the battlefield — the Air Force must implement upgrades to make the system more survivable against sophisticated adversaries.
“There is a strong push to improve electronic protection for the F-16 against modern adversaries,” Graham said. “NL21 allowed for both an RF-dense environment while permitting targeted testing before, during and after LFE [Large Force Exercise] fights.”
Conroy said the F-16 is still capable.
“We really need the electronic warfare on these platforms to really make them survivable in that next generation or the next type of conflict that these platforms may be engaged in,” he said. “The RF threat environment has got so congested, meaning that there are so many other signals that are out there and being able to find the right signals really requires a lot of advanced processing.”
Northrop officials said they view the demonstration as a stepping stone. Next spring, Conroy said, they’ll begin developmental test on actual F-16s.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.