Brightening with Lightening

The United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) will get 150 Northrop Grumman AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missiles (AARGMs) via the country’s proposed arms deal with the United States.

Announced on 10th November, these missiles will adorn the 50 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning-II combat aircraft the UAEAF is seeking as part of the deal. The F-35A is to receive software and hardware updates optimising the jet to support the Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) mission following a contract awarded by the US Air Force to Lockheed Martin this June.

Back in late September it was reported that the UAEAF has shown interest in acquiring the Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic warfare and SEAD aircraft. However, some members of the Israeli airpower community had been unhappy about the UAE receiving the aircraft. The EA-18G is thus conspicuous by its absence in the proposed purchase inventory.

The UAE has requested 50 F-35A jets from the United States. These aircraft are expected to be configured to perform SEAD. (USAF)

SEAD Upgrade

The F-35 SEAD upgrade could confer improvements to the jet’s BAE Systems’ AN/ASQ-239 electronic warfare system. This is thought to cover wavebands of 500 megahertz/MHz to 40 gigahertz/GHz. Software improvements to the AN/ASQ-239 could provide necessary precision to target hostile radars with the AGM-88E.

AGM-88E

The AGM-88E is the latest version of the venerable Texas Instruments AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) series. The AGM-88E design adds a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receiver and a Millimetric Wave (MMW) radar.

The AGM-88E is a step change for the capabilities of the legacy AGM-88 series of anti-radiation missile. (Northrop Grumman)

The former lets the missile be loaded with an emitter’s GNSS coordinates meaning can still be targeted even if the radar transmission is switched off in an attempt to break the missile’s lock. It also allows the missile to be programmed with geographical zones outside of which it cannot fly. The MMW radar improves battle damage assessment as the short wavelengths accompanying frequencies of 30GHz and above depict targets in striking detail. This aids post mission analysis as the radar imagery can be viewed to ensure that the missile struck its intended target.

Between 2006 and 2007 the UAEAF acquired 159 legacy AGM-88B/C rounds. It is most likely these missiles which will be remanufactured as the AGM-88E.

The UAEAF may have failed to secure the EA-18G for now but, pending authorisation by the US Congress, the force should still receive a potent SEAD capability via the F-35A and AGM-88E.

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.

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