Growler Grumblings

No sooner were diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates concluded, than a stramash on arms sales developed.

On 3rd September the New York Times reported that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had privately agreed with US plans to sell the United Arab Emirates (UAE) advanced materiel. One day later news emerged that Bibi was publicly opposing the deal. One sticking point appeared to be the possible sale to the UAE of Boeing’s EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets.

An article in The Economist conveyed concerns from some experts in Israel that furnishing the Emirates with a platform like the EA-18G risked the techno-military advantage Israel enjoys over its Arab neighbours. The US began supplying equipment en masse to Israel in the wake of the 1968 Six Day War.

The UAE Air Force is interested in acquiring the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare plane. The US could offer a ‘downtuned’ version of the jet to the UAE to ally Israeli concerns. (RAAF)

That a potential EA-18G sale might raise eyebrows in Israel is not surprising. The jet is the most sophisticated air defence suppression platform out there. It can carry sophisticated electronic warfare payloads to jam the ground-based air surveillance and fire control/ground-controlled interception radars air defences rely on. The Growler can also launch Raytheon/Northrop Grumman AGM-88E/F High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles.

Subsystems

The UAE and Israel maybe able to compromise. The US could offer the UAE a ‘down-tuned’ version of the Growler. This could omit the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) suite of systems the US Navy and Royal Australian Air Force’s EA-18Gs are receiving. Instead the US could offer the legacy L3Harris AN/ALQ-99 electronic attack system that the NGJ replaces. The AN/ALQ-99 is thought to be capable of attacking radars transmitting on frequencies between 30 megahertz to ten gigahertz at ranges of up to 216 nautical miles/nm (400 kilometres) from 30,000 feet/ft (9,144 metres/m) altitude. It may even be possible to cascade AN/ALQ-99s to the UAE Air Force (UAEAF) as they are withdrawn from US Navy service to make way for the NGJ.

Likewise, the UAEAF already uses Raytheon’s AGM-88C HARMs deployed onboard its General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16E Fighting Falcon jets. The air force acquired 159 examples between 2006 and 2007. The US could offer to continue supplying legacy AGM-88B/C rounds but demur from providing the more advanced AGM-88E/F variants.

Folding the AN/ALQ-99 and AGM-88B/C into an EA-18G purchase would offer the UAEAF an advanced defence suppression platform, but with a specification which might ally Israeli concerns.

SIGINT Up North

Why was a Norwegian signals intelligence aircraft snooping around the Barents Sea this week?

On 9th September Russia’s official TASS news agency reported that Luftforsvaret (Royal Norwegian Air Force/RNOAF) Dassault Falcon-20 signals intelligence and Boeing P-8S Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft had been detected and intercepted over the Barents Sea. Two MiG-29 (NATO reporting name Fulcrum) series combat aircraft were scrambled to escort both aircraft away from Russian airspace.

What was the Falcon-20 looking for? Russia’s northwest Arctic region has recently received new radars. In 2018 a single Rezonans-NE Very High Frequency (133 megahertz/MHz to 144MHz/216MHz to 225MHz) ground-based air surveillance radar was deployed to the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. With a reported range of 594 nautical miles (1,100 kilometres) it provides coverage over air approaches into northwest Russia. These are likely ingress roots for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) aircraft during any future war with Russia.

29B6 Container Radar
The Russian Ministry of Defence has plans to deploy 29B6 Container high frequency radars to the Arctic regions. (Russian MOD)

The region has also received NIIDAR Podsolnukh-E High Frequency (HF: three megahertz to 30MHz) coastal/ground-based air surveillance which have an instrumented range of 243nm (450km) providing low altitude coverage. Plans are afoot to deploy NIIDAR 29B6 Container HF ground-based air surveillance radars to the Arctic. The radar has an instrumented range of 1,619nm (3000km).

Russia has a penchant for HF and VHF radars as they may be able to detect aircraft with low Radar Cross Sections (RCS). While the radars do not provide the necessary precision for surface-to-air missile engagements, they can be used for vectoring fighters towards hostile aircraft.

ELINT

These radars will be of interest to the RNOAF. The country is buying 45 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning-II combat aircraft. It would be prudent for the RNOAF to gather as much Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) on these radars as possible given their potential to detect low RCS targets like the F-35A.

TASS reported that the RNOAF jets were initially detected by Russian radar. This may have handed the Norwegians valuable ELINT when the radars were activated and revealed the strength of radar coverage. Russian air defenders may be confident that their HF/VHF radars can reduce the low-RCS threat. This does not mean the country’s rivals will not try to collect ELINT on these systems to understand how they could be outfoxed in the future.

New Signals Intelligence Platforms for Republic of Korea Air Force

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) could spend up to $725 million on new SIGINT aircraft between now and 2026.

Plans were approved by Republic of Korea’s Defence Project Promotion Committee (DPPC) on 26th June to acquire new Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) platforms for the ROKAF with a budget of $725 million.

The ROKAF uses two Dassault Falcon-2000S and four BAE Systems Hawker RC-800 SIGINT gathering aircraft. The Falcon-2000S jets were delivered in 2017. The RC-800 aircraft are slightly older, entering service in the early 2000s. DPPC plans call for four of the RC-800s to be replaced with the new SIGINT acquisition.

Wavebands

Both the Falcon-2000S and RC-800s are believed to gather Communications Intelligence (COMINT) and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) at the operational, and possibly strategic, levels. To this end, they are thought to collect COMINT/ELINT across 500 megahertz to 40 gigahertz wavebands. This intelligence maybe analysed onboard by electronic warfare specialists and/or transmitted across air-to-ground datalinks.

It is reasonable to assume that the ROKAF may choose to procure at least four new aircraft to replace the same number of RC-800s. The force could spend up to $175 million on each aircraft with a residual $25 million covering training and other ancillary costs. Local reports state that the first new SIGINT aircraft could enter service in 2026.

The Republic of Korea Air Force is looking for new signals intelligence aircraft to replace its existing RC-800 jets. (L3Harris)
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