Tag Archives: Electronic Warfare

The U.S. Air Force Has Deployed One Of Its EC-130H Compass Call Electronic Warfare Aircraft To South Korea

One of the few EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, capable to find and hit the enemy forces with denial of service (and possibly cyber) attacks on their communication networks, has been deployed to Osan Air Base, South Korea.

The EC-130H Compass Call is a modified Hercules tasked with various types of signals surveillance, interdiction and disruption. According to the U.S. Air Force official fact sheets: “The Compass Call system employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack (or EA) capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces.”

The USAF EC-130H overall force is quite small, consisting of only 14 aircraft, based at Davis-Monthan AFB (DMAFB), in Tucson, Arizona and belonging to the 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG) and its two squadrons: the 41st and 43rd Electronic Combat Squadrons (ECS). Also based at DMAFB and serving as the type training unit is the 42nd ECS that operates a lone TC-130H trainer along with some available EC-130Hs made available by the other front-line squadrons.

An EC-130H Compass Call travels along the taxiway at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 27, 2017. Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system that uses noise jamming to disrupt enemy command and control communications and deny time-critical adversary coordination essential for enemy force management. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Hehnly)

The role of the Compass Call is to disrupt the enemy’s ability to command and control their forces by finding, prioritizing and targeting the enemy communications. This means that the aircraft is able to detect the signals emitted by the enemy’s communication and control gear and jam them so that the communication is denied. The original mission of the EC-130H was SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses): the Compass Call were to jam the enemy’s IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems) and to prevent interceptors from talking with the radar controllers on the ground (or aboard an Airborne Early Warning aircraft). Throughout the years, the role has evolved, making the aircraft a platform capable of targeting also the signals between UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and their control stations.

According to the official data:

The EC-130H fleet is composed of a mix of Baseline 1 and 2 aircraft. The 55th ECG recently eclipsed 10,900 combat sorties and 66,500 flight hours as they provided U.S. and Coalition forces and Joint Commanders a flexible advantage across the spectrum of conflict. COMPASS CALL’s adaptability is directly attributed to its spiral upgrade acquisition strategy guided by the Big Safari Program office and Air Force Material Command’s 661st Aeronautical Systems Squadron based in Waco, Texas. Combined efforts between these agencies ensure the EC-130H can counter new, emergent communication technology.

The Block 35 Baseline 1 EC-130H provides the Air Force with additional capabilities to jam communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems through higher effective radiated power, extended frequency range and insertion of digital signal processing versus earlier EC-130Hs. Baseline 1 aircraft have the flexibility to keep pace with adversary use of emerging technology. It is highly reconfigurable and permits incorporation of clip-ins with less crew impact. It promotes enhanced crew proficiency, maintenance and sustainment with a common fleet configuration, new operator interface, increased reliability and better fault detection.

Baseline 2 has a number of upgrades to ease operator workload and improve effectiveness. Clip-in capabilities are now integrated into the operating system and, utilizing automated resource management, are able to be employed seamlessly with legacy capabilities. Improved external communications allow Compass Call crews to maintain situational awareness and connectivity in dynamic operational and tactical environments.
Delivery of Baseline-2 provides the DoD with the equivalent of a “fifth generation electronic attack capability.” A majority of the improvements found in the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline-2 are classified modifications to the mission system that enhance precision and increase attack capacity. Additionally, the system was re-designed to expand the “plug-and-play” quick reaction capability aspect, which has historically allowed the program to counter unique “one-off” high profile threats. Aircraft communication capabilities are improved with expansion of satellite communications connectivity compatible with emerging DoD architectures, increased multi-asset coordination nets and upgraded data-link terminals. Furthermore, modifications to the airframe in Baseline-2 provide improved aircraft performance and survivability.

Although it’s not clear whether this ability has already been translated into an operational capability, in 2015, a USAF EC-130H Compass Call aircraft has also been involved in demos where it attacked networks from the air: a kind of in-flight hacking capability that could be particularly useful to conduct cyberwarfare missions where the Electronic Attack aircraft injects malware by air-gapping closed networks.

With about one-third of the fleet operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (indeed, four EC-130Hs, teaming up with the RC-135 Rivet Joint and other EA assets, are operating over Iraq and Syria to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate), the fact that a single EC-130H (73-1590 “Axis 43”) was recently deployed from Davis Monthan AFB to Osan Air Base, South Korea, where it arrived via Yokota, on Jan. 4, 2018, it’s pretty intriguing.

Obviously, we can’t speculate about the reason behind the deployment of the Electronic Warfare with alleged Cyber-Attack capabilities (that could be particularly useful against certain threats these days….) aircraft south of the DMZ: however, the presence of such a specialized and somehow rare aircraft in the Korean peninsula, that joins several other intelligence gathering aircraft operating over South Korea amid raising tensions for quite some time, is at least worth of note.

Update: some of our sources have suggested that the aircraft was deployed to perform anti-IED (Improvised Electronic Device) tasks during the Winter Olympics, kicking off on Feb. 9, 2018 in PyeongChang County, South Korea.

All U.S. Navy Super Hornets and Growlers grounded after incident injured aircrew

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.

The injured crew was transported to a Medical Center in Seattle for evaluation by a base SAR (Search And Rescue) helicopter.

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.

It’s not clear whether the EA-18Gs supporting the war on ISIS will be affected by the flight restrictions as well (even though a Navy spokesperson said that exceptions will be authorized on a case-by-case basis) but, depending on its length, the grounding may have an impact on the US ability to conduct “kinetic” EW (Electronic Warfare) missions, a kind of task currently only two other platforms can carry out: U.S. Air Force F-16CJs and U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers.

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.

Image credit: U.S. Navy

 

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U.S. Air Force RC-135s teaming up with Marine Corps EA-6Bs (and others..) to detect and suppress ISIS comms

In the skies over Iraq, USAF spyplanes, USMC and USN Electronic Attack aircraft work together to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate.

The image above shows a U.S. Air Force RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar, disconnecting from a USAF KC-10 Extender tanker after receiving fuel near Iraq on Dec. 5, 2016.

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)

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.

First of all, a major role is played by the RC-135 Rivet Joint intelligence gathering planes.

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 fleet is 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)

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.

By the way, VMAQ-2 “Playboys” are currently involved in a 6-month tour of duty started in October, when the unit replaced another Marine Corps squadron, the VMAQ-4 “Seahawks” (that were spotted at Lajes airfield, Portugal, showing some interesting mission markings and insignia on their way back to the U.S.)

 

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U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers (including one with stunning sharkmouth) return to the U.S. after fighting Daesh from Turkey

EA-6Bs with interesting markings returning to the U.S. after flying in support of Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

On Oct. 7, six EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft belonging to the VMAQ-4 “Seahawks” of the U.S. Marine Corps landed at Lajes airfield, Portugal.

As the images in this post, taken by our friends at APS- Associação Portugal Spotters, show the Prowlers got some interesting markings and insigna, including a pretty cool and usual Sharkmouth.

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163398/RM06 USMC badge on rudder using radio callsign “Tabor86”
163047/RM007 “Agent 007” callsign “Tabor84”
163527/RM “Q4” callsign “Tabor83”
161885/RM09 “Shark`s teeth” callsign “Tabor82”
163031/RM08 “Jam this” callsign “Tabor81”
162936/RM05 callsign “Tabor85”

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.

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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).

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The ageing Prowlers are being replaced by the Boeing EA-18G Growler, an Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet that already replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service.

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Image credit: APS- Associação Portugal Spotters

 

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Unique photo shows U.S. Navy Growler with High Value Individual cell phone-jamming kill mark

U.S. Navy Growlers jam High Value Targets/Individuals’ cell phones.

The image in this post shows the nose of a VAQ-137 EA-18G Growler aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt, supporting Operation Inherent Resolve against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Interestingly, the aircraft sports a quite unique kill marking, showing a person “hit” by a lightning bolt.

According to our sources, this is the kill mark applied when the Growler is used in an operation during which it jams cell comms or pick up cell comms and that person is targeted.

All the other “standard” lighting bolts are for generic Electronic Attack support: usually, jamming during ops when F/A-18s are dropping ordnance.

But the cell phone one is very specific to targeting a High Value Target or other individual with a cell or cell-jamming over an area. Ordnance is often employed in this context.

The Boeing EA-18G Growler is an Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet that replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service.

Along with actively jamming enemy communications, the Growler, operating in a networked environment along with other two aircraft of the same type (needed for triangulation), can use its EW pods to geo-locate a signal source and target it from stand-off distance with air-to-surface missiles.

Image credit: Marc Garlasco