In 2016, VAQ-130 Growler Electronic Attack aircraft worked hard to deny the ISIS militants the ability to communicate.
Islamic State militants rely heavily on COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) and DIY radios along with smartphones to communicate, browse the Internet, send emails, exchange messages, dispatch orders, trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) etc.
Various platforms of the US-led coalition that fights ISIS in Syria and Iraq continuously work to snoop into Daesh comms, intercept the signals emitted by their devices and, if needed, make such communication impossible (by disturbing the comms or attacking the cell towers or targeting specific high value individuals using cell phones).
“Kinetic Electronic Attack platforms” can be called in by other aircraft (such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint spyplanes which can disseminate data gathered in real-time via tactical data link) or ground forces to prevent ISIS fighters from talking to other militants by jamming their cell phones with high-power signals or by dropping actual ordnance at them.
Last year, among the units waging the Air War on ISIS frequencies, there were also the VAQ-130 Zappers.
Embarked on USS Eisenhower with their Boeing EA-18G Growler, the Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet (that replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service), the “Zappers” have supported Operation Inherent Resolve carrying out a wide variety of missions.
The badge sported by the VAQ-130’s EA-18G during their 2016 cruise.
Indeed the Growler has the ability to jam the enemy communications or work in combination with other EA-18s to geo-locate a signal source and target it from stand-off distance with air-to-surface missiles such as the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile).
The following video provides the highlight of VAQ-130’s 2016 cruise. And includes much OIR footage.
The U.S. Navy has temporarily grounded all its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler jets after a ground incident at Whidbey Island.
The U.S. Navy Naval Air Forces commander has suspended flight operations of both Super Hornet and Growler types after a canopy incident involving an EA-18G from the VAQ-132 “Scorpions” caused unspecified injuries to the aircrew on Friday, Dec. 16.
According to a release from the USN the aircraft suffered an “on-deck emergency” shortly before take off from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Since the systems used by the Boeing Super Hornet and the Growler, its Electronic Attack variant, are similar, the U.S. Navy has decided to ground both types as a precaution pending further investigation.
The grounding of the most advanced Hornet variants comes in a period of serious concern surrounding the crash rate recorded by the U.S. and foreign fleets of “Legacy Hornets” (that is to say the A, B, C and D versions): as reported at the beginning of December, the recent U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C crash that caused the death of a Marine pilot was the 9th major incident involving a “Legacy Hornet” (including a Swiss F/A-18C and the Canadian CF-18 lost on Nov. 28, 2016) in the last 6 months.
In the wake of three Hornet crashes from June through October, the U.S. Marine Corps temporarily grounded its non-deployed Hornets for 24 hours, before losing two more F/A-18Cs few days after the ban was lifted.
Here below you can see a similar photograph of a U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft belonging to VMAQ-2 from MCAS Cherry Point, temporarily deployed to Incirilik Air Base, Turkey preparing for refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, on Nov. 29, 2016.
Although they have a different role and belong to different services both aircraft are often part of the same team, a team whose goal is to shut down Daesh communications.
A Marine EA-6B Prowler peels off after refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, Nov. 29, 2016. The 340th EARS extend the fight against Da’esh by delivering 60,000 pounds of fuel to USAF A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15 Strike Eagles and U.S. Marine EA-6B Prowlers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)
Little details are available about the missions these HVAs (High Value Assets) carry out together in theater against the Islamic State even though we have been able to collect some interesting details about the way they team up to conduct their secretive tasks.
In fact, as already pointed out by War Is Boring journalist Joseph Trevithick, not only do the USAF Rivet Joints eavesdrop and pinpoint “enemy” radio signals, but they can also disseminate the details about these targets via tactical data-link to other aircraft, including the Prowlers, whose role is to jam those frequencies in order to prevent terrorists from talking one another on the radio or cell phone or using portable transmitters to trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).
Robert Hopkins, III, a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models in the 1980s and 1990s, and author of a book on the type, says that “RJ (Rivet Joint) can share the intelligence they collect with a wide variety of assets, both aerial and ground, to meet their operational requirements.”
Here are some relevant excerpts from his revised book Boeing KC-135: More Than a Tanker to be released by Crécy in February 2017, that explain how this ability to collect and share information with other aircraft has evolved during the years:
“Among the significant improvements included in the Baseline 7 jets (beginning with 62-4131 in late 2001) were derivatives of the Link 16 Joint Tactical Information Display System (JTIDS), including Tactical Digital Links (TDL), formerly Tactical Digital Information Links (TADIL). These provided narrowband communications with other tactical airborne assets as well as the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), emphasizing the Rivet Joint’s increasing conventional combat support role. […]
The impressive capabilities of the Rivet Joint in operations in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere found strong support among combat commands, and led to a broad range of planned enhancements. […]
Baseline 8 jets incorporated improved collection techniques, ‘user friendliness’, and system reliability, as well as automated and faster information dissemination capabilities. They were the first to be extensively ‘connected’ to other airborne and ground-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting assets. RC-135W 62-4126 was the first Baseline 8 Rivet Joint. It included the satellite-based Remote Extended Aircraft Position Enabling Reachback (REAPER—also noted as Narrowband Reachback, or NABRE) and Network Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) systems.
Baseline 8 is also able to ‘talk’ to the U-2S and the ground-based, tri-service Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) processing and dissemination architecture to connect directly with other ISR airplanes such as the Beechcraft RC-12 Guardrail, Boeing E-8 JointSTARs, and US and allied nation Boeing E-3 AWACS.
A single Rivet Joint, for example, might detect a signal of interest (SOI) but be unable to provide a precise location, especially as the RC-135 moves along its flight path. Using multiple, networked NCCT platforms, however, means that a Rivet Joint, a Guardrail, and a U-2S would all detect the same SOI, and, within seconds, triangulate its precise location and relay that to the CAOC and national targeting agencies.
Among the latest upgrades to the Rivet Joint fleetis the FAB-T, a ‘second-generation terminal’ system capable of passing low-rate data between air and ground assets. […] First tested in 2011 on NC-135W 61-2666, the FAB-T allowed the rivet joint to connect with a MILSTAR satellite and then transmit data and voice communication with a ground facility. Since then, the data transmission rate has increased, allowing a ‘more secure communication capability to deliver much higher quantities of actionable intelligence products into the hands of the warfighter.’”
A RC-135 Rivet Joint from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing prepares to move onto the runway before a mission Oct. 21, 2016, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The RC-135 Rivet Joint is a reconnaissance aircraft that supports theater and national level consumers with near real-time on-scene electronic warfare support, intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miles Wilson/Released)
Islamic State fighters rely heavily on commercial radios and cell phones; they use Internet and send emails from their mobile devices, and aircraft from the various services continuously work to intercept all these signals and, if needed, make such communication impossible (by disturbing the comms or attacking the cell towers).
And, sometimes, based on data collected and disseminated by Rivet Joints, “kinetic Electronic Attack platforms” are called in to target high value individuals, preventing them from dispatching orders to other militants. By jamming their cell phones with high-power signals or the old way: by dropping actual ordnance on them (a role that can be fullfilled not only by mission-purpose aircraft or an F-16CJ “Wild Weasel” but also by a more “conventional” bomber.)
As probably done last year by a VAQ-137 Boeing EA-18G Growler, the Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet (that replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service), embarked on USS Theodore Roosevelt supporting OIR that sported the unequivocal High Value Individual cell phone-jamming kill mark.
Tanker support was provided by KC135R 62-3518 “Spirit of kokomo” from AF reserve at Grissom ARB, Indiana.
The aircraft were returning from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, from where they have supported Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Syria and Iraq since April.
EA-6Bs are among the most important assets in the air war against Daesh: they eavesdrop “enemy” radio signals and jam those frequencies in order to prevent terrorists from talking one another on the radio or cell phone, or use portable transmitters to trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).
Report: F-35Cs Descend in Mass on the USS George Washington During DT-III.
The USS George Washington (CVN-73) is hosting the F-35C in its final Developmental Testing cycle, DT-III through Aug. 23.
However, for a couple of days the two VX-23 “Salty Dogs” F-35C Lightning IIs from NAS Patuxent River were joined by 5 F-35Cs from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” out of Eglin AFB. The 7 F-35Cs on the deck of the carrier represented the largest carrier contingent of F-35Cs to date.
F-35C from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” performs a touch and go on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016 VX-23 “Salty Dogs” F-35C in foreground aside another VFA-101 F-35C.
Media were hosted on the USS George Washington Monday, Aug. 15 to witness the pilots completing their carrier qualifications (CQs) at the onset of DT-III. All pilots embarking must perform a number of “cats” and “traps” prior to executing the specific tests involved with DT-III.
F-35C from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” dropping from deck and into the hangar for engine change. The aircraft is 100%, just an exercise to see if anything unusual crops up. On the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016.
DT-III includes validation of the aircraft’s flying capabilities with full internal and external stores (up to 4 GBU-12s and two AIM-9X on external hard points); handling tests with asymmetrical loads; testing for maximum weight launches (up to 65,000 lbs) at minimum power; evaluating all of these in a variety of wind and sea states.
F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers getting ready to snag a 3 wire on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016
As explained by Tom “Briggo” Briggs ITF (Integrated Test Force) Chief Test Engineer there were some additional aspects they wanted to evaluate. These areas to assess included shipborne evaluation of tweaks made to control laws (based on previous DT testing), shipborne logistical support and some night launches to verify adjustments made to the Gen 3 helmet performed as desired.
The ITF (Integrated Task Force) and supporting team of personnel have worked tirelessly to bring the program to this point, and yet the reality of DT-III was – “business as usual.”
Media probed for human interest stories from the cadre of pilots on board, “What was it like, after all the simulator hours and practice landings at the airfield to actually land on the ship?” From pilots who had 50 traps with the F-35C to those who had just realized their first – they struggled to provide any other answer; “no drama, no surprise, performed as expected, very vanilla, pretty easy.”
F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” arrested landing, during DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) August 15, 2016.
The preparation had been solid and thorough and DT-III itself was simply moving according to plan – that is if you can plan to be ahead of schedule after only 1.5 days!
F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” crosses the deck after fueling, on the way to the catapults. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.
In many ways DT-III was “upstaged” by the appearance of VFA-101, and yet it was upstaged in a fashion that brought ultimate satisfaction to the ITF’s efforts.
As U.S. Navy Commander Ryan “Flopper” Murphy, F-35 ITF lead said, “the greatest satisfaction was to watch the fleet (VFA-101) start to utilize the aircraft.” After all, that was the point of all the years of work; to equip and empower the Fleet with the F-35C.
160814-N-XW558-090 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) Lt. William Bowen taxis in an F-35C Lightning II carrier variant, assigned to the Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VX-23 is conducting its third and final development test (DT-III) phase aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex L. Smedegard)
12 VFA-101 pilots with 5 F-35Cs completed their CQs in just over 1.5 days. As Capt. James Christie of VFA-101 described, that includes 10 landings and 2 touch and gos each. A total of 120 cats, 120 traps and 24 touch and goes. Simultaneously the 5 VX-23 pilots performed their CQs. F-35Cs were all over the carriers deck, moving, landing, and launching – much like I would imagine an operational tempo.
F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” waits to cross the deck for fueling. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.
There were instances of hot refueling, with pilot changes during refuel and the aircraft cycling back for more CQs.
As VX-23 F-35C pilot Ted “Dutch” Dyckman explained, everybody completed their CQs faster than with the Hornet or Super Hornet. The additional fuel on the F-35C, the ease of landing due to Delta Flight Path mode, along with aircraft reliability all played a part in the accelerated CQs.
The innovative “Delta Flight Path” mode that is engaged on approach alters the F-35C control laws, setting auto throttles and maintaining the optimal 3 degree glide slope to landing. This approach makes landing on the carrier much easier, and pilots were hitting the desired 3 wire virtually 100% of the time.
160814-N-MY901-131 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant assigned to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy’s F-35C Fleet replacement squadron, lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VFA-101 aircraft and pilots are conducting initial qualifications aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Krystofer Belknap)
Delta Flight Path utilizes the flaps to add or decrease lift during approach to maintain the glide slope. Observers can see a tremendous amount of flap movement during the aircrafts approach to the deck.
These movements are all controlled by the computer to provide the pilot what they want – stable glideslope to the deck. The F/A-18E/F and EA-18G control laws are being modified to feature the same Delta Flight path in an initiative called “Magic Carpet.”
F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers crosses the deck for fueling on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016
As Briggs explained, DT-III is to prepare the aircraft launch and recovery bulletins (ALB/ARB). These are the operating guides the Navy will utilize to determine the appropriate launch and recovery parameters for the aircraft, given weights and conditions. These bulletins are required for operations, and ensure the aircraft can safely launch and recover with the desired loads to complete assigned missions.
F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers landing on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016
Recently appointed to the new position, Director of Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration, Rear Admiral Roy “Trigger” Kelley was also aboard the USS George Washington. Kelley will be directing the F-35C program towards IOC between August 2018 and Feb 2019. Kelley is excited about the capabilities the F-35C will bring to the Fleet; first day access into contested areas that host sophisticated integrated air defense systems; the ability to utilize stealth and sensors to define the battlespace combined with advanced command and control capabilities that will empower the entire fleet.
DT-III is a significant milestone, and it is clear the F-35C is now tracking very quickly and methodically to a IOC with the U.S. Navy.
F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” executes a last second wave-off with F-35Cs from VX-23 and VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” in background. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.
The Aviationist would like to thank the following for their support: Sylvia Pierson, F-35 ITF/JPO PA; CDR Dave Hecht, Naval Air Force Atlantic PAO; Capt. Timothy Kuehhas, CO USS George Washington; and the many supporting PAOs on and off shore, pilots, engineers, and C-2 Greyhound crews. The entire US Navy team were professional, gracious hosts.