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 It may even be possible to cascade AN/ALQ-99s to the UAE Air Force (UAEAF) as they are withdrawn from US Navy service to make way for the NGJ.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.

Growlers for Growlers

The suggestion that the US could acquire two S-400 systems from Turkey has been unsurprisingly opposed by Russia. Such an acquisition could yield the US and her allies a treasure trove of intelligence.

A mooted plan for the US to buy S-400 SAM systems from Turkey could prompt a ELINT bonanza.

Senator John Thune, a Republican Senator from South Dakota has proposed that the US purchase the Almaz-Antey S-400 (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler) long-range/high-altitude Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems that Turkey procured from Russia.

In 2017 Turkey procured two S-400 systems, a total of four battalions, for $2.4 billion with deliveries commencing in 2019. This threw a spanner in the works of plans by the Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (THK/Turkish Air Force) to acquire Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning-II combat aircraft.

A total of 120 aircraft were expected to be acquired before the acquisition was cancelled by the administration of President Donald Trump in July 2019. The administration was concerned that the S-400’s sensors, principally its ground-based air defence and fire control radars, could collect sensitive information regarding the F-35A’s radar cross section and electromagnetic emissions.

The cancellation of the acquisition resulted in the four THK F-35As delivered to Luke airbase, Arizona, being rerolled to furnish the US Air Force.

Nyet from Moscow

Mr. Thune suggested that the US acquisition of both S-400 systems would remove them from Turkey and hence THK control allowing F-35A deliveries to continue. Russian lawmakers protested the proposal with Leonid Slutsky, chair of the Russian Duma (parliament) committee on international affairs, condemning Mr. Thune’s proposal as “unprincipled and cynical.”

It seems unlikely that such a purchase will occur in the near term. Such a move by Ankara would make Moscow hopping mad. Yet such a purchase by the US would offer serious benefits.

Intelligent Decision

Aside from resuming F-35A deliveries to Turkey, it would give the United States Air Force, and US armed forces in general, once of the world’s most advanced air defence systems to pour over at their leisure.

The US Department of Defence already possesses a smorgasbord of Soviet-era SAMs and ground-based air surveillance and fire control/ground-controlled interception radars. These have been sourced from a myriad of ex-Warsaw Pact countries. They are routinely used to provide realistic threats during US-based international air exercises like Red Flag.

The US Navy and USAF are both overhauling their Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (S/DEAD) postures. The US Navy is deploying the Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic warfare and S/DEAD aircraft, along with Northrop Grumman’s AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radar Guided Missile, a  variant of the venerable AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radar Missile) family. The US Air Force is optimising the F-35A to perform S/DEAD using Northrop Grumman’s AGM-88F HCS (HARM Control System) AGM-88 variant.

US and allied aircraft operating over Syria have flown in airspace thought to be protected by the S-400. Russia has deployed two systems to the northwest of the country since 2015.

However, there is doubt in some quarters of the NATO electronic warfare community as to whether either system has been activated in full for fear that Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) regarding their 91N6 (NATO reporting name Big Bird) S-band (2.3 gigahertz/GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) and 96L6E (NATO reporting name Cheese Board) C-band (5.25GHz to 5.925GHz) early warning and target acquisition radar could be hoovered up by US and NATO ELINT aircraft.

For all intents and purposes much of the S-400’s design and capabilities remain a mystery. No wonder Moscow is nervous about NATO getting its hands on a couple.

King SINCGARS

The SINCGARS tactical communications waveform is in rude health despite its age. Is this thanks to its robust performance in Ukraine?

A recent article published by Forecast International touted the enduring appeal of the SINCGARS (Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System) tactical communications waveform.

The piece notes that the past three years has seen orders for radios using the SINCGARS waveform from Kuwait, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, to name just three countries. Meanwhile L3Harris, SINGARS’ prime contractor, continues to support the waveform in US Army and US armed forces service, avid SINCGARS users, along with a plethora of other NATO members.

Life in the old hertz yet

SINCGARS entered US Army service in the early 1990s, the force’s 1st Division being the first unit to get SINCGARS-compatible radios. Sales have been following ever since.

Using frequencies of 30 megahertz/MHz to 80MHz, SINCGARS was revolutionary. It can handle digital and analogue traffic, move data at rates of 16 kilobits-per-second and be used for clear and frequency-hopping communications.

The US government supplied an undisclosed number of L3Harris radios using the SINCGARS waveform to Ukraine since the latter’s decent into civil war in 2014.

Anecdotal evidence shared with the author by members of the Ukrainian tactical communications and electronic warfare communities notes that SINCGARS has remained largely unaffected by significant Russian jamming. This alone is a good advertisement for SINCGARS. Furthermore, as of 2018 the US Army is enhancing the waveform using lessons learned from Ukraine. Despite hitting its third decade, SINCGARS stills has some miles left to run.

The SINCGARS waveform is in high demand thanks in part to its robust performance in Ukraine in the face of Russian jamming. (Photo: US DOD)

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