⏩ WHY IT HAS TO BE THE CHEAPEST BUY ?
“If for other reasons, we are forced to acquire the MMRCA from international OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), as a substitute for the LCA then go for the lowest cost and size equivalent to the LCA, ” writes Prof. Prodyut Das in a highly readable critique of India’s RFI for 110 MMRCA ‘Riddle of the RFI : Symptoms of an ancient malaise? ‘
The logic was not lost on me as I read the engrossing essay many times over. What is the point of dabbling in Tejas Mark-II, if we are still to import pricey jets from foreign OEMs ?
And if we have backed ourselves to fashion a homegrown fighter, it only goes to imply that import is just a temporary measure for us. It will buy us time to come to terms with the vagaries of a new venture. And as such, MMRCA 2.0 doesn’t have to be a costly indulgence, but a low-cost obligation that’ll fill the interregnum. Ideally money saved on MMRCA can then be utilised to bolster strengths of our own red hot Tejas Mark-II.
Conversely, if we have doubts on our entrepreneurship in developing a world class fighter, we shouldn’t be wasting precious public exchequer on Tejas Mark II in the first place. Scrap this indigenous project and better channelise the funds to importing best possible aircrafts.
There are no half measures.
Saudi Arabia has a nascent Aerospace industry. So hardly have they lost any peace on developing a local aircraft. Instead best available fighters – F-15SA and Eurofighter Typhoon have been acquired off foreign vendors. Sweden on the other hand has locally made Saab Gripen and they have little bothered to acquire any more European or American jet.
⏩ LOWEST BIDDER
While actual comparison of the costs can be made only when bids for each aircraft are submitted, the recent sales can be a decent pointer for our analysis. Look at the chart below :
To add to the above, Su-35 was recently bought by China at $85 million per aircraft while the details for the same and Mig-35 are not available to the media.
It emerges that Boeing’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet can be the cheapest buy from amongst the aircrafts in the competition. But never mind that Boeing has tied up with the only company of India that manufactures fighter aircrafts – Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) and Mahindra Defence Systems (MDS), it seems the very low cost of Super Hornet has been held against it. If the social media interactions reflect the mood of the nation, Super Hornet is poor cousin of more flamboyant F-16. That it is the most decorated fighter in recent US war history, has done little to add to its prestige.
I also suspect that India being home to the largest poor in the world, it is a thriving place for leftist ideologies. So anything that originates from US is quickly taken as a discard that a rich capitalist country is foisting on a developing country.
Our intent instead should be how we can draw maximum value addition from a deal for F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets. Bargaining for latest iterations of AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9X Sidewinder, AGM-158 JASSM (Joint Air to Surface Stand-off Missile), laser guided weapons like AGM-154 JSOW (Joint Stand-off Weapon) can be one thing. Our interlocutors can pitch in for an assurance from their US counterparts to equip Super Hornets with AGM-158C LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile), a stealthy anti-ship cruise missile under development for US Air Force and Navy in future upgrades. While other can be to take the effectiveness of Super Hornets to altogether next level by adding some E/A-18 G Growlers in the mix.
⏩ EA-18G GROWLER FOR IAF
It is no secret that Hornets hunt better when accompanied with tactical jammers. Incidentally, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is building its own High Band Jammer (HBJ) since long. But having a full aircraft devoted to jamming takes tactical warfare to an entirely different level. Now nations don’t come around to making such aircraft all of a sudden. Rather there is decades of R & D to fall back on from which programmes like E/A-18G Growler germinate. America’s forays into arriving at a perfect jammer have seen them make likes of EA-6A, EA-6B Prowler, EF-111A Raven to finally produce Growler, quite recently. My point is if we acquire some Growlers with Super Hornets, not only do we have a deadly pair for war, but even in peacetime, continuous fiddling with a high class jammer can propell our engineers to make our own next generation homegrown jammers.
Further ahead, Boeing is looking to upgrade the Growler. The ALQ-99 radar jamming pod may be replaced by 2020 with the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) which uses AESA technology to focus jamming power exactly where needed. Even that will perfectly fit the acquisition schedule for MMRCA 2.0 if US Govt could be convinced to share the technology with us, given that a clear India-US alliance is emerging in the world affairs.
⏩ UTILITY OF F/A-18G Growler :
Tactical Strike Aircrafts like F/A-18 Super Hornets are often up against air defences equipped with extensive radar and communications jamming equipment. While they can defeat individual hostile weapons like a Surface to Air Missile (SAM) using their on-board radar warning receivers (RWR) and defence jammers (ECM), the defending side has the advantage of seeing the big picture and thus concentrating its SAMs, radar directed guns (AAA) and fighter resources to maximum effect.
Firing multiple SAMs at a single aircraft can and often will saturate the crew and jammers of F/A-18 Hornet thus increasing the likelihood of a kill. On the other hand, if it has a E/A-18G Growler flying in tow, the latter will most easily destroy the advantage of defending side by high power jamming of their Acquisition and Ground Control Intercept (GCI) radars and associated communications network.
Now E/A-18G Growler carrying expensive equipment and still more expensive to train operators, is itself a lucrative target for the enemy. Therefore it also must have an ability to evade SAMs and fighters at least as good as but preferably better than the base F/A-18 Hornet it is derived from. Growler has the two wingtip missile launcher rails for AIM-9 Sidewinder, outboard pylon reserved for AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles, and provision to carry two AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles at multi-mode conformal fuselage stations. Thus Growler quite ingeniously adds formidable air superiority to already robust strike capability of F/A-18 Super Hornet.
⏩ ESSENTIALS OF EA-18G Growler
As already stated, the Growler is derived with some modifications from F/A-18 Hornet. The added electronics include AN/ALQ-218 Wideband receivers on the wingtips and ALQ-99 high and low-band tactical jamming pods. The ALQ-218 combined with the ALQ-99 form a full spectrum electronic warfare suite that is able to provide detection and jamming against all known surface-to-air threats. The current pods are being updated so that Growler remains as effective as ever against emerging threats.
The Growler has 9 weapon stations in all. So it can be fitted with up to five ALQ-99 jamming pods and will typically add two AIM-120 AMRAAM or AGM-88 HARM missiles. The remaining two stations can be used for conformal fuel tanks. Conformal fuel tanks are a necessity because a Growler is penalised in radius performance and unlike strike aircraft it cannot shed 4000 to 12000 lb of weight (ordnance) over the target if the going gets tough.
The EA-18G also uses INCANS Interference Cancellation System that will allow voice communication while jamming enemy communications. In addition, the Growler possesses a communications receiver and jamming system that will provide suppression and electronic attack against airborne communication threats.
Functionally the AN/ALQ-218 wideband receivers sit at the top of the chain – sophisticated radar warning receivers which detect and prioritise threat radars for power managed jamming by the ALQ-99. Power management is a term which refers to the allocation of available jamming power in such a way that the greatest threats receive the most power and are thus most strongly degraded.
Threat parameters are passed by AN/ALQ-218 to the ALQ-99 which locks its set-on receivers on to the designated threats. Unlike conventional RWRs, the AN/ALQ-218 receiver can actually remember and analyse the threat signal waveform (employing a Frequency Memory Device and Signal Processor) and provide parameters used by the ALQ-99 Central processor to programme the allocated jammer.
The ALQ-99 offers several noise/spot-noise jamming modes and have other capabilities such as false target generation. In terms of management, ALQ-99 can be operated in three primary modes. Automatic, where the AN/ALQ-218 detects threats, the computer sorts them and the jammers jam them. Semi-automatic, where the operator selects and controls the jammers, and Manual, where the operators also identify and prioritise threats.
⏩ HOW GROWLER IS EMPLOYED :
The Growler’s flight performance is similar to that of the F/A-18E/F. This attribute enables the Growler to perform escort jamming as well as traditional stand-off jamming.
On Primary Jamming Missions, EA-18G Growlers fly as escort jammers with deep penetration strike aircrafts like F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Typically the aircraft all penetrate using TFR at very low level and hopefully undetected. As the strike aircraft approach the radar horizon of the target’s area defences, the E/A-18G Growlers would pop up to several thousand feet and jam any radars which would be considered a threat, while the strike aircraft pound the target from tree top altitude.
In stand-off missions, the EA-18G Growlers would operate at a distance from the battle front and snow enemy’s long range surveillance radars from probing for our AWACS and other such aircrafts.
Three Growlers networked together can generate targeting tracks for hostile radio-frequency sources in real time. Utilising faster data-links the Growler could use its EW pods to accurately locate signal sources. In a group of three planes, when one detects a signal from a source such as a cell-phone, the other two can also listen for the same signal, all three measuring the amount of time taken for transmissions to travel from the source to each aircraft to triangulate the location in a very very small area. By early 2015, the US Navy had demonstrated this concept using EA-18s equipped with Rockwell Collins’ tactical targetting network technology (TTNT) and ALQ-18 receivers to acquire emissions from a target vessel and target it from a stand-off range without using their own detectable radar emissions.
⏩ CONCLUSION :
High performance tactical jamming aircraft are a necessary part of any major air power and represent the most effective means of disrupting the control of the enemy’s defensive system. Once that has occurred the individual SAM and AAA systems have no means of coordinating and concentrating their fire on specific targets. This renders them essentially ineffective when confronted by the on-board defensive jammers of the attacking strike aircraft. Thus EA-18G Growlers can prove to be of immense significance to Indian Air Force.
Even in itself, an F/A-18 Super Hornet will prove a unique platform of continuous air dominance for years to come. It is designed to operate in and adept between air-to-air and air-to-ground missions during the same sortie. AN/APG-79 AESA radar, Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared pod (ATFLIR), AN/ALQ-67V(3) radar warning receiver, and AN/ALE-50 Towed Decoy System together provide Super Hornet improved situational awareness, pin-point accuracy, increased survivability and advanced capabilities in the challenging air battles that Indian Air Force is poised to see in the 21st century. In my view, IAF must have a look at it if the aircraft is offered for a competitive price and even consider EA-18G Growler for acquisition.
(video credits : Fast Aviation Data)