Navy still focusing on the Next Gen Jammer

The plan to replace the 50-year-old jammer is designed to address rapidly proliferating threats in the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Navy is continuing to move toward replacing its primary aerial jamming pod, the ALQ-99, with the Next Generation Jammer, which will provide significantly greater capabilities in the electromagnetic spectrum against growing threats.

“Threats have grown both in number and capability, to put it simply,” Capt. John Bailey, program manager of Airborne Electronic Attack Systems, said at the 2016 Sea Air Space seminar May 16.  In terms of isotropic radiated power, the Next Gen Jammer is “about 10 times the power of what we typically put out in the ALQ-99,” he said. As for capacity, “ballpark, quadruple the number of assignments it can handle” as well as the ability to rapidly beam-switch from “target to target to target” nearly instantaneously.

The ALQ-99, which dates back nearly 50 years, has reached its limit of what it can do, especially against a modern threat, in terms of effective isotropic radiated power, advanced modulation and capacity. “The reason we are purchasing the next-generation jammer, [whose] first increment will reach initial operational capability around 2021, is that the threat is getting more and more advanced. And that threat is in the electromagnetic spectrum. The next war is going to be fought in the electromagnetic spectrum,” Rear Adm. Michael Manazir, the Navy’s director of Air Warfare, told members of Congress in April, while providing an update on the status of the Next Gen Jammer. 

Development of the Next Gen Jammer, which is being made by Raytheon, has been slowed by budget constraints, but has reportedly performed well in tests.

As for as additional drivers forcing the need for an upgraded capability, Bailey’s presentation listed longer standoff range, longer missile range, increased density, digital-based radar processing, coherent low probability of intercept radars, irregular warfare electromagnetic fratricide and rapid technological advances, among other factors. The Next Gen Jammer will respond to these factors with higher equivalent isotropically radiated power, increased number of assignments, digital-based waveform modulations, coherent countermeasures, wideband spectrum, clear spectral output and open architecture, among others.   

Regarding specific threats behind these drivers, Bailey declined to offer any greater specificity other than the threats are coming from “everybody—it’s not just Russia,” he told Defense Systems following his address. While Russia has proven significantly adept in electromagnetic operations, especially in the land domain, China has begun to place greater importance on electronic warfare.  China “identifies electronic warfare (EW) as a way to reduce or eliminate U.S. technological advantages, and considers it an integral component of warfare,” according to the recently released Defense Department Annual Report to Congress on China. “The [People’s Liberation Army’s] EW doctrine emphasizes using electromagnetic spectrum weapons to suppress or to deceive enemy electronic equipment. The PLA’s strategy focuses on radio, radar, optical, infrared, and microwave frequencies, in addition to adversarial computer and information systems.” 

The report also notes that China views EW as a comparable domain of warfare just like ground, sea and air. China’s EW weapons include jamming equipment against multiple communication and radar systems and GPS satellite systems, the report said. The United States has been engaged in heated exchanges over China’s land reclamation and militarization of man-made islands in the South China Sea, stemming from Navy surveillance aircraft flights and freedom of navigation operations.

While so-called “cognitive EW” programs, which aim to use artificial intelligence to rapidly learn incoming frequencies, are talked about in conjunction with the Defense Department’s Third Offset strategy, Bailey said such concepts are not a current program of record. “[It’s] something we’re looking at for the future though, future upgrades, I wouldn’t call it an increment but a future upgrade, yes. We’re looking into that but there’s no funded program of record for it at this time,” he told Defense Systems, adding he couldn’t say how far off the possibility of dedicated funding is. 

“Today, when [aircraft] go out, though, they find that they’re getting pinged by radar signals that we’ve never encountered before and it’s just one reflection of how rapidly technology is changing in the world. When that happens today, it can be weeks to months to literally years before they’re able to get the kind of protection they need against that new radio signal,” DARPA director Arati Prabhakar, said at the Atlantic Council in May, regarding cognitive EW. “With this advance in machine learning, with these systems onboard, what we’ll have for these aircraft is the ability to scan the radio spectrum in real time to determine what the adversary’s radar is doing and then right there on the spot create a jamming profile that will protect those aircraft in real time, in the battlespace even when the world around them is changing.”

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