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EA-6B operators critique F/A-18E/F "C2W variant." (aerial electronic warfare equipment)

US Navy and Marine Corps EA-6B aircrews had a chance to fly into the future this fall in a hi-fi manned simulation of the conceptual F/A-18E/F "[C.sup.2]W Variant." McDonnell Douglas and Northrop Grumman, the industry partnership laying the foundation for an F-18-based successor to the EA-6B Prowler, hosted representatives from 14 different military commands on October 28-November 1 at McDonnell Douglas's Manned Simulation Facility (MSF) in St. Louis.

McDonnell Douglas has been promulgating the F/A-18F as the natural heir to the escort-jamming mission since May 1994, when it completed a Navy-sponsored feasibility study on the subject. Encouraged by positive study results but lacking additional commitment from the Navy, the company joined forces with Northrop Grumman's Electronic Systems and Integration Div. (proprietor of both the EA-6B and the Air Force EF-111) to continue the project independently. The team is now investing about $3 million to $5 million in internal funding per year for preliminary design studies and demonstrations, said Paul Summers, the [C.sup.2]W Variant program manager at McDonnell Douglas.

The program's central thrust is the Crew-Vehicle Interface (CVI) - designing a state-of-the-art cockpit that will enable the two-person F/A-18F crew to adopt the workload of the four-man Prowler. For this recent simulation, the second such solicitation of air-crew comment and input the team has held, EA-6B and other EW aircraft operators were invited to critique a [C.sup.2]W Variant cockpit workup in the high-fidelity, full-dome environment of the MSF. The simulator is a modified F/A-18F crew station with [C.sup.2]W. Variant-unique electronics, controls, displays and symbology.

The aft, or electronic countermeasures officer (ECMO), station of the Variant is built around a large (8 x 10-in.) tactical topographic map display designed to give the operator the necessary situational awareness for the demanding EW mission. It combines color symbology (an improvement over the small, monochromatic situation display in the Prowler) in an integrated picture that presents both threat radar and threat communications information - a first, according to Northrop Grumman's Phil Silano. The crew's workload is streamlined through the pictorial interface, which is controllable via touchscreen or two joysticks. Instead of maneuvering around the nonintuitive software tree on the Prowler display, for example, the ECMO can manage jammer assignments by moving a cursor on the map. Two other displays provide emitter operating characteristics and other electronic-order-of-battle data. The pilot also has access to the EW displays.

According to Summers, 26 aircrews from three services attended this second annual "open deck" review, including crews from Prowler squadrons across the country. Representatives from the Air Force's Air Combat Command also took test flights. The team has received "great feedback," said Summers, a claim upheld by participants like CAPT Dave Ross, an EA-6B readiness officer attached to VAQ-129, NAS Whidbey Island.

"It's terrific; they've done a lot of work and it's obvious the payoff from having guys like us go there and see it," he said. "It's going to decrease the workload incredibly for everybody. They did a study and said it could be done by two men, and I believe it....I have nothing but good things to say about it."

This year, according to Summers, the aviators flew into a "2010 threat environment" characterized by "double-digit" surface-to-air missiles and advanced communications networks. "That's the environment we're designing for, not today's environment," said Summers. The team modeled the simulation on forecast data provided by the Joint [C.sup.2] Warfare Center (J[C.sup.2]WC), the Defense Intelligence Agency and other government agencies. Three J[C.sup.2]WC representatives attended the demonstration. "They're the ones who helped develop the 2010E Scenario that everybody's using," explained Summers, "so if there was any hint that we cooked the books, they would have been the first ones to stand up and say 'bs.'"

In the scenario, the [C.sup.2]W Variant supported a package of ordnance-carrying F-18Es striking a preestablished target, a nuclear facility "someplace in the world." Using soft-kill jamming or launching High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles, the Variant cleared a path on the ingress, supported the strikers during the attack and then led them on the egress. In some cases, the Variant engaged "bogies," enemy fighters, with air-to-air missiles. The action demonstrated two key selling points of an F-18-based EW support-platform, noted Summers: it can penetrate with the same speed, endurance and maneuverability as the strikers (unlike the rather doddering Prowler) and it preserves the full air-to-air and air-to-ground capability of its -E and -F mates.

While impressive, the capabilities of this potential Prowler replacement are purely virtual, since the program has produced no hardware, nor will it without some Navy funding support. The team has laid the groundwork, however, for any future program. It has performed four wind-tunnel tests on wingtip receiving pods, which would replace Sidewinder missiles with wideband ES receivers and antennas for all but very low bands. The team has also performed EMI testing on the flight control computer and put a full-scale model on an antenna range.

For the jammer, the team has narrowed its solution to a lightweight, centerline pod using internal ram-air turbines to sustain transonic flight. The team has evaluated about 11 proposals for the EA system (see the October 1995 "EC Monitor," p. 26). According to Summers, the partners would like to conduct some hardware demonstrations next year.

Before any serious hardware development can begin, however, "We need to have an indication that the Navy is going to put money behind the program," said Summers. The Navy has endorsed the concept of an F-18F EW solution, but is currently focused on its immediate support-jamming need: to sustain the EA-6B until 2010. The Navy has said publicly that the [C.sup.2]W Variant is a POM 00 issue - meaning it will decide in early 1998 whether to proceed with a program.
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Author:Lum, Zachary
Publication:Journal of Electronic Defense
Date:Dec 1, 1996
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