F-16-(USAF)
USAF F-16s are receiving new EW capabilities via the NGEW initiative, replacing legacy systems with a digital radar warning receiver and towed decoy.

On 11th January, the US Air Force selected Northrop Grumman to provide new electronic warfare systems for its F-16s.

The company’s initial development contract to supply its Next Generation Electronic Warfare (NGEW) ensemble is worth $250 million. This could increase to $2.5 billion over the long term should this apparatus be rolled out across the lion’s share of the US Air Force’s (USAF) F-16 fleet media reports noted. Open sources state that the eventual procurement could be sufficient to furnish 450 jets, chiefly the F-16C/D Block-40/42 and Block-50/52 variants. Development of the NCEW is ongoing, although the air force has hinted that installation could commence in circa 2024.

Configuration

Details regarding the configuration of the NCEW were supplied in a Northrop Grumman press release. The firm is suppling some of the self-protection systems being acquired for the USAF’s Lockheed Martin AC-130J Ghostrider fixed-wing gunships, and MC-130J Commando-II special operations turboprop freighters and tankers.

The NGEW seems destined to replace the BAE Systems AN/ALR-56M radar warning receiver and the Northrop Grumman AN/ALQ-131(V) podded electronic attack system already equipping the USAF F-16s. In their place, the Vipers are expected to gain a towed fibre optic decoy and a digital radar warning receiver.

Ryan Tintner, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for navigation, targeting and survivability told Armada that the NGEW design will use ultra-wideband receivers to provide a wider instantaneous bandwidth than currently possible with the F-16’s legacy systems. This will ensure that emerging radar threats employing discreet waveforms and electronic counter-countermeasure techniques can be detected and attacked as soon as they appear. He added that the NGEW design will be scalable and provided in both internal and podded configurations as per the desires of US and international customers.

Mr Tintner also emphasised that the NGEW will be configured to work closely with the aircraft’s Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 fire control radar, which Armada records note transmits in X-band (8.5 gigahertz/GHz to 10.68GHz), to avoid electromagnetic fratricide with the NGEW and vice versa. The AN/APG-83 is outfitting several of the US Air Force’s F-16s along with the Republic of China Air Force’s F-16Vs. A derivative of the radar has also been proposed for installation onboard the USAF’s Rockwell International/Boeing B-1B Lancer strategic bombers.

Future Threats

The NGEW’s installation should allow F-16s “to operate in current and future threat environments against a rapidly advancing adversary,” notes Mr. Tintner. This is highly relevant as the F-16s of the USAF and other air forces around the world are expected to remain flying into the next decade. At the same time, potential adversaries will continue their investment into advanced ground-based air defences as exemplified by Russia’s ongoing development of the Almaz-Antey S-500 high-altitude, long-range surface-to-air missile system.

by Dr. Thomas Withington