Our best look at the Air Force EC-37B Compass call jamming jet

The US Air Force has released new photos and a brief video of the next-generation EC-37B Compass Call electronic warfare jet. Recently shared media offers the clearest official look yet at the jet, which is set to replace the current Air Force aircraft that handles the Compass Call mission, the EC-130H.

Footage and images of the EC-37B were captured after the aircraft arrived at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Ariz., Aug. 17 for a brief visit with Airmen from the 55th Air Force Group. electronic combat to show his progress. The service and L3Harris, the program’s platform integrator, last year explained that the EC-37B would be delivered for testing around this time of year, suggesting that the aircraft’s development schedule is, as it stands, somewhat close to being on the right track.

The EC-37B, when completed, will be used to perform the global Compass Call mission, “disrupting enemy command and control communications, radar, and navigation systems to restrict battlespace coordination”, according to the Air Force. This is achieved by providing critical distance electronic warfare jamming support, which is ideal for use against adversary communication systems rendering the enemy unable to relay important information. It can also be used for other types of electronic attacks and jamming. In addition to this, a secondary intelligence-gathering functionality complements the Compass Call system by enabling it to locate, track and geotag a variety of transmitters.

The first EC-37B Compass Call aircraft manufactured its maiden flight in the fall of last year, and a corresponding announcement by L3Harris neglected to go into too much detail about the test, but nonetheless sounded optimistic about the program’s progress. That hope was revived in June of this year when members of the United States House of Representatives decided to add $37 billion to the proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2023 – $883.7 million from this proposed plan are intended to acquire four more EC-37B Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft.

In what was a fairly costly leap from the Air Force and L3Harris’ original plan to procure just 10 EC-37Bs, the potentially deep fleet of 14 next-gen Compass Calls would equate to a one-for-one replacement. one of the existing EC. -130Hs. At the start of the program, L3Harris was confident that 10 EC-37Bs would provide more than enough capability to supplant the 14 legacy EC-130Hs the Air Force had operated. Now, it looks like the Department of Defense has decided that the compromise won’t be that simple or that replacing every aging EC-130H could only further bolster the Air Force’s electronic warfare capability, which is worth it. the penalty. the investment.

An EC-130H Compass Call moves along the taxiway at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 27, 2017. Credit: US Air Force

While the EC-130H has certainly gone down in Air Force history as a highly capable electronic warfare aircraft, a number of airframes of this type date all the way back to the Vietnam War, so the fleet needed a successor to start taking over. To meet this need, the ball officially started rolling in 2017 when the Air Force awarded L3Harris a contract to run Compass Call’s “cross deck” program. Basically, this means that as much of the Compass Call system as installed on the EC-130H is directly reinstalled on board the new EC-37Bs.

An EC-37B Compass Call parks after arriving at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 17, 2022. Credit: US Air Force

The service knew it wanted to retain the electronic warfare equipment that had allowed the EC-130H to succeed in its jamming career, but the dated airframe had to go, and that’s where Gulfstream stepped in.

Under its contract with the Air Force, L3Harris will harvest components of the already proven system from older EC-130Hs, upgrade it, and transplant the technology into highly modified Gulfstream G550 business jet airframes, creating the EC-37B which can be seen in recent Air Force snapshots. In partnership with L3Harris and Gulfstream, BAE Systems will also be responsible for overseeing the mission systems integration aspect of the EC-37B development.

“The G550 platform has increased speed, endurance and extended standoff distance over the older EC-130H aircraft – delivering significantly improved survivability,” read an L3Harris pamphlet explaining the program. “The new platform will provide combatant commanders with enhanced remote jamming capability and flexibility to counter sophisticated communications and radar threats.”

The Gulfstream’s high altitude capabilities will allow its electronic warfare and signals intelligence equipment to reach much farther and it will be able to get to an area of ​​operations and back home much faster.

An EC-37B Compass Call arrives at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 17, 2022. Credit: US Air Force

The type derives its unsightly looks from its predecessor, Israel’s Eitam airborne early warning and control aircraft. This type also now flies with the Italian and Singaporean air forces, as well as a version of it with the US Navy. The latter as a range control platform under the designation NC-37B. The EC-37B uses the same external molding line, which can pack massive Active Electronically Scanned Arrays (AESA) on the sidewalls, as well as smaller front and rear arrays, as well as numerous types of communication systems.

Israel’s Eitam spawned a very exotic general Gulfstream configuration that now flies with multiple air weapons. Credit: Allen Watkin/wikicommons

AESA arrays are known for their use as radars, but they are extremely capable in electronic warfare applications, harnessing instantaneous scanning and extremely powerful, tight beams of RF energy to wreak havoc on transmitters.

You can read more about the Air Force’s decision to go with a modified business jet for its EC-130H replacement, and other projects, in the past. war zone feature, here.

As previously reported, the Compass Call mission is currently carried out by the EC-130H, which has played a low-key but pivotal role in some of the most high-profile US operations in the Middle East and other regions over the years. year. Previous iterations of the EC-130H have been beneficial in supporting missions such as the 2011 raid that ultimately resulted in the elimination of al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Another great example of what Compass Call has done over the years is their role in preventing the detonation of an improvised explosive device that could have killed the Major at the time. General James Mattis. During the early stages of coalition operations, it helped disrupt the enemy’s decision cycle in several ways, most importantly blocking critical communications.

Electronic warfare will continue to play a huge role on future battlefields, including potential large-scale conflicts against major adversaries like China, and its importance looks set to only grow with time and technological advancements.

Service members admire an EC-37B Compass Call after it arrived at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 17, 2022. The EC-130H Compass Call is slated to be replaced by the EC-37B, the first of its kind which has the enhanced flight performance of a commercial business jet airframe. (US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class)

Although recent developments may change the pre-established delivery schedule for the EC-37Bs in the future, Air Combat Command originally planned to field the first five aircraft in 2023. As for the 14 EC-130Hs, five of which have already been retired as of 2021, and two more are expected to leave service this year.

With the arrival of the EC-37Bs into the Air Force’s evolving aerial electronic warfare structure, the utility and legacy of the Compass Call will only grow.

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