Next Generation Jammer Pod Flies on Growler

 - August 12, 2020, 11:25 AM
A single ALQ-249 NGJ-MB pod flies on a VX-23 EA-18G. The Growler’s wingtip pods house antennas for the Northrop Grumman ALQ-218 electronic support measures/intelligence system that provides information for the jamming pods. (Photo: Naval Air Systems Command)

A U.S. Navy Boeing EA-18G Growler has carried Raytheon’s ALQ-249 pod aloft for the first time. The ALQ-249 is also known as the Next Generation Jammer Mid-Band (NGJ-MB), and is the first of three systems that will eventually make up the Growler’s NGJ electronic attack suite. The pod features opening side doors to admit air for power generation and cooling.

The single NGJ-MB pod was test-flown from NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, on August 7, carried under the starboard outer wing pylon of a Growler from the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX)-23 “Salty Dogs.” The initial sortie was a Safety of Flight (SOF) trial to check that the pod could be carried safely by the EA-18G, in turn permitting follow-on testing of the system itself.

“There was a lot of discussion on how the NGJ-MB pod would affect how the Growler handles, and it was exciting to have the jet feel like any other flight,” reported Lieutenant Jonathan Williams, VX-23 test pilot. “We have a great test team to thank for making today happen and I look forward to seeing how the Growler team brings out the full potential of the NGJ-MB pod.”

Development of the NGJ is managed by Naval Air Systems Command’s PMA-234 Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) systems program office. The goal is to replace the current ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS), which first saw action in 1972 during the Vietnam War when carried by Grumman EA-6B Prowlers. The EA-18G can carry up to five TJS pods and, while the system has been regularly updated, it has limitations when faced with modern air defense systems such as the Russian S-400.

“The AEA community has been relying on the ALQ-99 TJS for decades,” said Lieutenant Jonathon Parry, NGJ-MB Aeromechanical Project Officer. “Gone are the days of isolated surface-to-air missile systems that operate on a small frequency spectrum and do not integrate into a larger integrated air defense system. Modern adversaries are developing complex emitters that use advanced techniques to defeat legacy jamming. NGJ-MB will provide new capabilities to the fleet to ensure spectrum dominance against current and future threats.”

NGJ is based on the latest digital technologies and employs directional jamming by active electronically scanned array (AESA) antennas. Raytheon’s NGJ-MB is the first of the new systems to enter testing. When it is fielded it is expected that one ALQ-249 will be carried under each wing, with a single TJS pod remaining on the centerline until the second element of NGJ is ready for service.

That element—the low-band NGJ-LB pod—is under development by Northrop Grumman and L3Harris, with preliminary demonstration of existing technology ground trials having begun in May. The Northrop Grumman pod design appears visually similar to the TJS, including a ram air turbine on the front. A contract for further development is expected in the fall, as is the selection of a prime contractor. Australia—currently the only other operator of the Growler—joined the NGJ project in July, signing cooperation agreements that covered both NGJ-MB and NGJ-LB.

Fielding of the low-band pod has been accelerated through additional development funding. It has significant application in disrupting and jamming emerging low-band sensors that are being developed to counter stealthy aircraft. The final increment of the NGJ system—the high-band NGJ-HB pod—has yet to be contracted.