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Does the RAF Have or Need an Offensive Electronic Warfare Capability

Given Russian and China will sell complex integrated air defence systems to pretty much anyone, or at least use the threat of selling them, it strikes me that the low observability of the F35B and information integration using sources such as Sentinel and Air Seeker might not be enough to ensure success. Each platform like the Typhoon or F35 has its own protection systems but these are focussed on protecting the aircraft so that it can release its weapons and get back to base.

I had  quick read of AP-3000 British Air and Space Doctrine and it covers Electronic Warfare (EW) in a couple of places;

Offensive counter-Air (OCA) Missions. OCA missions are offensive operations aiming to destroy, disrupt or degrade enemy air and missile threats, either by destroying them on the ground, or as close to their source as possible. Such operations may be pre-planned or immediate, and are conducted across enemy territory at the initiative of friendly forces. Pre-planned operations depend on continuous and accurate intelligence, while immediate operations are conducted against unexpected mobile and time-sensitive targets, where there may be only a small window available for attack. OCA includes surface attack operations, air-to-air missions the Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) and Electronic Warfare (EW).

It goes on to define ECM in the context of delivery Air Attack and Information Operations;

Electronic Warfare (EW) seeks control of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, both to enable friendly-force operations, and to deny an enemy the same degree of freedom

There is a lot of joint capability,  the Joint Electronic Warfare Operational Support Centre (JEWOSC) at RAF Waddington, the NATO Joint Electronic Warfare Core Staff (JEWCS) at RNAS Yeovilton and the impressive facilities at RAF Spadeadam.

The RAF Spadeadam website provides a very good definition.

Electronic Warfare, or EW, is military action that involves the use of the electromagnetic spectrum to reduce or prevent the enemy using the electromagnetic spectrum. EW is used to enhance the survivability of aircraft and ground assets and improve mission effectiveness

And then subdivided this further into Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and Electronic Counter Measures (ECM);


Electronic Surveillance Measures (ESM), generally in the form of in-cockpit Radar Warning Receivers, gives aircrew warning of radars that are active in the area. Such Radar Warning Receivers inform aircrew of radar type, mode of operation and relative direction from the aircraft. Aircrew would then decide what Electronic Counter Measures and tactics to use to either avoid or defeat the threat radar.


Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) in the form of jamming or decoys used in association with tactical manoeuvring by aircraft may help to defeat the threat radar. RAF aircraft are equipped with jammers and chaff dispensers both of which are used to for ECM purposes. Chaff, known as Window during World War II, still has capabilities even against modern radar systems. Many aircraft also carry Infra-red flare dispensing systems to defeat Infra-red guided missiles, which home onto hot areas of aircraft such as the engines.

The United States Air Force has a more direct use of language, it defines Electronic Warfare as;

Electronic Warfare (EW) is waged to secure and maintain freedom of action in the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS)

As with the UK, this broad term is further subdivided;

EW consist of three divisions: electronic attack (EA), electronic warfare support (ES), and electronic protection (EP).

These differences are interesting in their own right.

Electronic Attack (EA) is the division of EW involving the use of electromagnetic (EM), directed energy (DE), or antiradiation weapons to attack personnel, facilities, or equipment with the intent of degrading, neutralizing, or destroying enemy operational capability. EA prevents or reduces an enemy’s use of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). It can be accomplished through detection, denial, disruption, deception, and destruction. EA includes lethal attack with assets like high speed antiradiation missiles (HARMs); active applications such as decoys (flares or chaff), EM jamming, and expendable miniature jamming decoys; and employs EM or DE weapons (lasers, radio frequency weapons, particle beams, etc.).  EM jamming and the suppression of enemy air defenses(SEAD) are applications of EA

The aspect that is the main subject of this post is what the USAF called Electromagnetic Jamming.

Electromagnetic Jamming jamming is the deliberate radiation, reradiation, or reflection of EM energy for the purpose of preventing or reducing an enemy’s effective use of the EMS, with the intent of degrading or neutralizing the enemy’s combat capability. Early Air Force EW efforts were primarily directed toward electronically jamming hostile radars to hide the number and location of friendly aircraft and to degrade the accuracy of radar-controlled weapons. Currently, jamming enemy sensor systems can limit enemy access to information on friendly force movements and composition and cause confusion. Jamming can degrade the enemy’s decision-making and implementation process when applied against command and control systems. An adversary heavily dependent on centralized control and execution for force employment presents an opportunity for EA

In equipment terms, the US has a wide variety of equipment, as can be imagined. Not only will the F35 have extensive electronic attack capabilities but they will be joined by equipment such as the newly upgraded Northrop Grumman ALQ-131 EA jammer pod.

ALQ 131

Of course, anything to do with the F35 attracts a great of controversy but I think there has been a general recognition that the F35 will not be ‘enough’ in some circumstances so the US Navy have their F18 Growlers that will be equipped with the very advanced Raytheon Next Generation Jammer replacing the ageing ALQ-99 pods. It is on time and budget so far and is planned for initial operating capability in 2020. Each Growler will have two of the self-contained active electronically scanned pods and what is interesting is the potential for the pod to incorporate cyber warfare and other electronic network intrusion capabilities.

Equally intriguing is its rumoured SIGINT capabilities.

Flight testing has recently taken place on a modified business jet.

Raytheon Next Generation Jammer

Given that the NGJ is a podded solution Raytheon have stated it can be fitted to a wide variety of manned and unmanned aircraft.

We know the UK does not have any plans for equivalents to the MALD decoy and its jamming variant (MALD-J) or something like the EC-130 Compass Call.

So my question is a simple one, in two parts actually.

Does the RAF/RN have anything broadly equivalent to the NGJ or even an aspirational target for ‘electronic attack’ capability that would provide a similar collection of capabilities to the combinations of MALD, NGJ and Compass Call?

If not, is this a serious capability gap against a capable enemy and a future where we might not always be able to rely on Uncle Sam?

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18 Responses

  1. Well the UK was mad to give up ALARM. It should have been updated & kept in service. Plus AESA radars on Typhoon & F-35 would be suitable for EW. Like the idea of a pod on an MPA/bizjet/transport.

  2. There are airframes the RAF can tinker around with–Shadow, Rivet Joint/AirSeeker,

  3. JH, IIRC, the reason they gave up ALARM was because there were systems that were more suited to SEAD that could take its place, mainly a leap in airborne ISR technology that meant you didn’t have to wait for someone to try and shoot you before shooting him, the doctrine these days seem to be a UAV front wave then a lot of stand-off missiles before going in instead of going in and hoping you shoot faster than the other guy. Not to mention new multi-static radar means that taking out a single station might not work that well any more.

    TD, I don’t think you can separate the platform from the system that far as to say it will not have other systems in combination as well. I mean just because the F-35 is “stealth” does not mean it totally will not come with ECM, such things tend to come as a “synergistic” package, not a one trick pony.

  4. Observations :

    NGJ is costing $6284m for 116, or $54m a pop – plus it needs various modifications to a standard F/A-18, extra wiring etc.

    The US doesn’t have a replacement for HARM at the moment – NGM/JDRADM, the combined AMRAAM/HARM replacement got cancelled. Meanwhile they’re putting increasing weight on EW + SDB for SEAD.

    The only logical replacement for ALARM would be based on Meteor. Let’s just get Meteor in service in air-to-air, then worry about an ARM or dual-mode variant.

    The RAF prefers small amounts of SEAD spread all over the fleet (eg ALARM on GR4) rather than concentrating it in dedicated Wild Weasel squadrons like the US and Germany.

    Bright Adder and descendants….

  5. Actually, to be fair the RAF doctrine for quite a while was to avoid having to do SEAD by blazing in at VVLL. ALARM was complementary to that idea.

    A long way away from the USAF/USN dedicated EF111+F4G and EA6/A7 StArm/Shrike/HARM combos….

  6. El Sid. Just been to to look up the AGM-88E AARGM. It says the yanks have over 100 in service now & have also sold them to the Italians. It is said to be compatible with F-35 & Tornado.

  7. The RAAF is developing some emerging electronic warfare capabilities across a number of platforms.

    Currently any EW/SEAD/DEAD missions would have to rely on the FA18F Super Hornets ASEA radars EW/EA capabilities combined with stand-off weapons principally the JSOW (up to 130 km range if released at altitude) and Australia’s indigenous designed JDAM ER wing kits which provide a relatively inexpensive standoff weapon (ranges out to over 70 km – triple a normal JDAM).

    The RAAF also has the JASSM cruise missile in inventory for a longer reach again (370 km), but as I understand it they are not (yet?) integrated on the Supers only the so-called ‘classic’ Hornets. Both Supers and the HUG upgraded classic Hornets have link 16 and should be able to exchange targeting data, but given their cost, only likely to be used against high value targets.

    The E7 Wedgetail’s MESA radar apparently has some classified EW party tricks of their own and other platforms, like the soon to be introduced P8s, may also provide a degree of electronic warfare support (ES) capability.

    Though the centrepiece of Australia’s capabilities will undoubtedly be the 12 FA18G Growlers (an airborne equivalent of fast bowler Mitchel Johnson) currently being built in the US and on track for IOC in 2018. Crew are already training with USN Growler squadrons in the States so the RAAF should be able to stand up the capability relatively quickly.

    The RAAF Growlers will come equipped with AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles plus be able to employ the same (read cheaper) stand-off options already available to the existing FA18F Super Hornets. Cost for the Growlers is $1.5 billion for the airframes, mission (weapons) and support systems, training, and through life support. Upgrading to NG jamming pods would be additional cost not yet budgeted for.

    In the near term the Growlers should give the RAAF the leading EW capability in our region and make a useful contribution to coalition air operations. Combined with the RAAF’s 5 existing MRTT’s (orders for two more recently confirmed) it gives us the capacity to ‘reach out and touch’ targets around 2,000 kms from air bases.

    The RAAF is already demonstrating this strike capacity operationally in Operation Okra, Australia’s contribution to coalition ISIS airstrikes with aircraft operating out of the UAE regularly flying up to 10 hour missions to hit targets in northern Iraq.

    Longer term of course there is whatever EW capability the RAAF’s 72 F35A’s will bring to the fight. The first two of the RAAF F35’s are currently flying training missions out of the USAF’s Luke air force base in Arizona and scheduled to enter service in Australia in 2018 (at the same time as the Growlers) although realistically IOC will be some time further down the track again.

  8. @JH
    If it’s an AGM-88, it’s a HARM in my book… AGM-88E was meant to be a stop-gap before NGM/JDRADM entered service around 2020. Although officially it was killed by sequestration, I suspect that the problems they had developing AGM-88E was a discouragement to a “new” missile, despite the logic of combining ARM and AAM. They now seem to be doing tweaks to AGM-88E, adding GPS and a new motor in increments.

  9. good post TD, This is a vital area that we have no looked at much.

    Beyond self protection systems like Sky Shadow and the DASS the RAF has no electronic attack capability at present. AESA systems on F35 and Typhoon may eventually go some way to offsetting this but probably nothing as capable as NGJ.

    In my opinion this is one of the most vital aspects of modern warfare and while the MOD is great at writing definitions for EW it’s basic policy is leave it to the Americans.

    Turkey is currently developing a stand off jamming aircraft and some of the bidders are actually British companies like Selex in Edinburgh.

    we really need to get SPEAR missile into service and a purchase of both MALD And MALD J to be used on C17 and Typhoon. In addition we need a stand off capability As well either put on to an FJ like Typhoon or F35 or a business jet as the Turks are doing.

    we also seem to have very little in the way of communications jamming capability. Perhaps an A400 solution combining off the shelf technology for both SIGNIT and EW is the answer. The USMC had a decent program on its harriers.

    Selex certainly has the technology to do it given its work of the DASS, bright Cloud and bright adder/ CAPTOR E

    The U.S. it’s self is in a bit of disarray when it comes to the EW mission with only the navy retaining a full spectrum capability. This is definitely an area that we should look to build on both to enhance sovereign capability and contribute to coalitions.

    Would also be good if SPEAR IV incorporated a multi mode seeker including RF capability along with upgrade TLAM with the same.

  10. @El Sid

    This is a strange stance. Sure it is called an AGM-88 but the capability is hugely different. The addition of a MMW terminal seeker really changes the fundamental way the weapon works as it really only tracks on the radar signal initially and can terminate with great precision against a shut-down radar or a non-emitting target.

    The whole front end is basically new and it has a whole different concept of operations. The back end does the job but is apparently going to get modified to fit inside and F-35A/C with a ramjet solution. That should boost range and make a very fine weapon. Call it whatever you want it is a solution that I quite like to aspects of the SEAD problem.

  11. If the USN strategy is to operate EA-18G in support of F-35 long term (not officially stated), the numbers need to increase. Otherwise recent purchases are just the bridge until Block 5 that the USN has advertised is its intention and will then be retained for as long as it’s economical to do so.

    Will be interesting to watch. Great complementary asset for the USN for the fleet duration. Also keeps their production line ticking over to help secure the final FMS deals.

  12. @JMH – I’m not sure why you’re surprised, the various Mavericks, Hellfires, JSOWs, Tomahawks etc all have very different components and uses, but keep the name.

    And forgive a British audience for being a bit underwhelmed by the novelty of an ARM that isn’t defeated by turning the radar off….

    I’ve nothing against HARM, it’s great at what it does – but it doesn’t have a monopoly on SEAD, which is becoming much more of a team game, particularly once you throw things like MALD-J into the mix. A Storm Shadow equivalent of MALD-J would be a great toy to have, and would be nudging up my personal shopping list, but would probably need multiple countries in Europe/Gulf (or at the very least France) to share the bills.

  13. El Sid,
    I’m all for improving our EW capabilities, that do seem distinctly lacking. I like MALD-J and would love us to have this type of capability and am hoping we go ahead with whatever part of SPEAR is the SS upgrade too but is SS the right platform for this? IIRC the idea with MALD was a cheap missile or is this different in MALD-J? I think SS is considerably bigger and heavier than MALD-J too. Is there a reason you think it would be good to have a larger version like that? Am only an interested amateur so all the above are genuine questions, am not trying to be clever or anything…

  14. Actually Martin, I think the UK does have EW “attack” capability, it is that they (as well as other countries) do not publicize it much. EW is one of the most highly classified secrets of any country.

  15. A couple of obviously unrelated questions:

    1 ) What do you think the AESA array in CAPTOR will do…..?
    2) And why do you think the RAF are pushing the designers so hard on performance…?

    Equally unrelated…I am absolutely sure that all the AESA work undertaken as part of ARTS/Reforger never gave any consideration electronic attack, nope none whatsoever.

  16. Oh, and the ongoing use of Spadeadam as an EW tactics training range, with notifications of jamming activities against emitters, also strongly suggests the RAF is giving insufficient consideration to electronic attack and SEAD….

  17. @ Observer

    If we have a capability then what platform provides it? we do have jamming pods but they are designed for escort jamming. Nothing that would give a stand off capability.

    Does anyone think the U.S. Would sell us the next generation jammer? Also anyone want to hazard a guess about how difficult it would be to integrate on Typhoon? I know they decided to avoid integration on F35 as the cost was seen as prohibitive but I think much of that was due to the need to physically integrate the kit with the aircraft to maintain LO not simply using an underwing pod system.

  18. Why not use the Tranche 1 Typhoons for SEAD operations they can carry MALD and NGJ to compliment the Tranche 2/3 instead of being retired

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