The EA-6B Prowler and the US Air Force’s similarly equipped but now retired EF-111A Raven proved highly effective in Operation Desert Storm. The majority of Coalition aircraft losses were from handheld IR guided missiles, not radar-directed systems. AN/ALQ-99(V) performance, and the need for EW jamming aircraft, has never been questioned. Even the increased use of stealth technology has not removed the need for jamming, as the use of Prowlers to escort F-117 Stealth Fighters demonstrated. However, EW funding has always been easy to cut in times of peace.
But things changed after 9/11, and the Prowler has seen constant service in Iraq – as indeed it has seen constant service in every shooting war since its inception. The Navy and Marine Corps plan to retain 111 EA-6Bs at least through 2010 or 2012 (the Marines will keep theirs longer, until 2018 or 2020), and funded a major upgrade program, ICAP-III, which includes a greatly improved receiver system (the now redesignated AN/ALQ-218(V)).
Funding also began in FY09 for development of the US Navy’s Next Generation Jammer (NGJ), intended to replace (or possible upgrade) the Growler’s AN/ALQ-99 pods near the end of the decade, and also provide the Marine Corps with a JSF-mounted EA system to replace its Prowlers. NGJ is something of a holy grail for the EW industry, with four teams (BAE Systems, ITT/Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon) already funded and planning for a major next-generation jammer program.
The NGJ is currently designated a “Pre-Major Defense Acquisition Program”, with activity focused on “technology maturation”. As new Growlers are still rolling off the production line with new EW suites, it will be very easy for the Navy to retain NGJ as merely a technology effort for another decade.
Teal Group estimates at least a 60% chance that NGJ will continue in low/mid-level development without production, possibly under different program names, for another decade, much like numerous past EW programs that long continued in RDT&E despite an urgent need (ATRJ/SIRFC, IEWCS/Prophet, ASPJ/IDECM, etc.). We believe the Marines will soldier on with Prowlers a few years longer. We tentatively forecast substantial RDT&E funding, with two NGJ EMD systems produced around 2020.
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