Since the Growler scored the simulated aerial victory against the Raptor, no further details have been provided on how the EA-18G got a missile lock on the F-22.
Taken at Joint Base Andrews in 2009, the famous picture in this post shows a U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler (specifically aircraft EA-1, the first of two Lot 27 F/A-18Fs converted into flying prototypes for the EA-18G program) featuring an F-22 Kill Mark.
Here’s what Stephen Trimble from Flight Global (who also took the photo) wrote about the picture:
‘Today was Electronic Awareness Warfare Appreciation Day at Andrews AFB. The base hosted a sort of petting zoo for high-tech jamming systems. I noticed a Boeing EA-18G parked on the side, and struck up a conversation with the pilot.
As we chatted about interference cancellation systems, I couldn’t help but notice an odd decal decorating the side of the fuselage. I asked the pilot: What’s that aircraft decal on the fuselage?
“That’s an F-22,” he said.
Well, why is it there?
“Because this is the EA-18G that killed an F-22,” he explained.
Alas, after that bombshell, the conversation quickly dried up. I did learn the EA-18G kill was courtesy of a well-timed AIM-120 AMRAAM shot. And I learned the simulated combat exercise took place at Nellis AFB. How the EA-18G escort jammer got the shot, and whether its jamming system played a role in the incident were not questions the pilot was prepared to answer.’
Noteworthy since the Growler scored the simulated aerial victory against the Raptor, no further details have been provided on how the EA-18G got a missile lock on the F-22.
So could the EA-18G jamming system realistically make the difference in aerial engagements against fifth generation fighters such as the F-22 or F-35?
By means of AN/ALQ-99 jamming pods, the E-18 Growler with can severely degrade F-22 and F-35’s radar performance, a feat very few aircraft can do. This will make stealth fighters’ radar ineffective against Growler from long ranges. However, in doing so the Growler will make itself vulnerable to the most sophisticated EW suites ever put on a fighter.
Something that’s often overlooked is that unlike conventional Fighters, the radar of the stealth fighters is not the primary source of Situational Awareness. The AN/ALR-94 (in F-22) and AN/ASQ-239 (in F-35) electronic warfare systems are by far the primary source of their Situational Awareness. Based on late 1990s severely underrated public data, the AN/ALR-94 was capable of tracking airborne RF emitters with 2°x2° precision and against a reckless emitter (like a powerful broadband jammer) it can provide all the information necessary to guide an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile to target. With 21st century hardware upgrade in 2006, the AN/ALR-94 have been further improved. The F-35’s AN/ASQ-239 is an upgrade to original ALR-94 and we know a single F-35 can detect & track an emitter faster and with greater accuracy than 3 F-16CJs working together.
So we have a situation where Growler may deny opponent’s radar but itself has no idea about F-22/35’s position while the Raptor and Lightning II will have no trouble passively tracking the EA-18G.
The F-22 and F-35 will easily sneak close to the Growler, and greet it with AIM-120D homing on jamming signals. In addition, the F-35 has Distributed Aperture System (DAS) and Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) for further assistance.
The advanced radars carried by the F-22 and F-35 make deceptive jamming largely ineffective, leaving noise jamming the only option – which makes the jamming platform highly vulnerable to AN/ALR-94 and AN/ASQ-239.
The E-18 Growler may present a different challenge to F-22 and F-35 pilots but the outcome will remain largely the same as with F-15s or any other fourth generation aircraft facing them.
Summing up a kill scored by a fourth generation fighter against an F-22 or an F-35 is scored more by chance opportunity than by engineered intent.
Will things change once EA-18G’s AN/ALQ-249 next generation jammer is fielded?
Photo credit: Stephen Trimble
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com