No plans to build F-35 EW variant

The Marine Corps has no plans to pursue an Electronic Warfare variant of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos at a Pentagon roundtable Thursday.

Amos said the AN/APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar installed on the F-35 already sets the fifth generation fighter apart as an electronic warfare platform.

“The airplane itself … with the AESA radar and sensors and information sharing capability is a pretty significant EW platform right now,” said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos at a roundtable meeting with reporters in the Pentagon Aug. 23.

Aviation analysts have questioned why the Air Force and Navy have not focused more heavily on modernizing their electronic warfare capabilities. The Navy has started to phase out the EA-6B Prowler with the addition of the FA-18 Growler as the military’s pre-eminent electronic warfare platform to take suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) missions.

The Growler carries up to five ALQ-99 jamming pods as well as AIM-120 AMRAAM or AGM-88 HARM missiles to attack air defenses. Of course, these ALQ-99s are three decades old and the Navy continues to build its Next Generation Jammer that will fool enemy radars with false returns. Amos said he didn’t see any reason the F-35 couldn’t carry these pods too.

The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are having a hard enough time finishing and paying for the development of the F-35 fleet without adding an extra electronic warfare variant. Amos said he didn’t see the need to make the job harder with the budget pressures the Pentagon is already under.

“I don’t see that there’s a need right now to segregate the F-35B aside and then say ok now we’re going to apply an EW capability on this thing so let’s generate a program and pile that cost on top of that. I don’t think there’s a requirement to do that right now,” Amos said.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • Pilgrimman

    As awesome as an EW F35 would be, I have to agree with this decision in light of the budget stresses this nation is under already.

    • guest

      Yeah, that would be awesome. Let’s build a stealth aircraft and then negate all that stealthiness. Brilliant.

      • Pilgrimman

        Have you considered the possibility that the military understands the nuances of this plane and EW better than some message-board armchair general on the internet? I’m sure they had a very legitimate case for designing an EW variant.

    • tmb2

      I remember seeing a Marine Corps powerpoint slide from 2009 with a cutaway of the F-35 (B or C can’t remember) showing it being used as an EW platform. Glad they took a appetite suppressant on that one.

      • William C.

        Do you happen to have a link to this, I’d be interested to see it.

        • tmb2

          Afraid not. I was just in the audience during a presentation. It was early 2009 and the Marine one-star was gushing about how the F-35 was going to be able to do everything imaginable.

    • pts

      An EW F35 is one of the worst ideas ever for the following reasons:_1. None of the Jamming Pods available now or in the near future are stealthly. In fact they highlight an aircraft’s position. Once a jammer comes on EVERYONE knows it._2. Space, even with all of the weight saving methods that have been going into the F35B, there is not the space to put in the receivers and computers needed to process the info. The EA-18G replaced the gun and several other parts from a straight FA-18F._3. Absolutely no space for an EWO/ECMO. The AOA for the EA-18G indicated a crew requirement of 2.5 crew members for high intensity ops ._4. Time on Station… the F35B has the shortest endurance of any of the 3 F35s….A jammer requires hefty legs because it is the first on station and the last one to leave.

      • guest

        Interesting, to your points: 1) You obviously don’t work in this field, or can’t comment on it, 2) There is room 3) The AoA also said you could do EA with zero EWOs/ECMOs from a UAV (so why not with one pilot?) 4) Why limit this technology to the B model? If it works there, it will work on either of the other tw.

        • PTS

          Guest, Sorry almost 1000 hours in an EA-6B and one ground EWO tour. While not at JATO, CRANE or Mugu, I have spent time around them!
          2. The JSF-B just celebrated getting 300lbs under weight! 3 The AOA also had EB-52s, EF-15s and a biz jet concept, the problem you run into is size and power requirements. MALD-Js are a good system for some target sets just not everyone. 4. The Marines want the B and only the B so it can fit their future plans for the MAGTF. The AF and Navy are using the EA-18 so no big driver to make and EW A or C version

  • Guest

    Not to mention that jamming will let them know that something is coming which is kind of antithesis to the whole stealth concept.

  • Belesari

    A stealth EW…….isnt that like a ninja with a siren.

    • guess

      A ninja with a siren and the flashing lights

  • Chops

    With LMs sterling record an EW variant ought to be finished at the end of the F35s projected lifespan—if they start now.

  • William C.

    It doesn’t have to be an F-35 providing the jamming support, but such coverage can still be very beneficial to VLO aircraft in many scenarios. If trying to detect and track an F-22 or F-35 is hard, doing so while a jammer aircraft is causing a lot of interference is much harder.

  • P.C. or die

    So the Marine Corps is blatantly going to give up Prowlers and replace them with nothing.

  • Capt Ahab

    How about a jammer & missile truck to accompany the stealth aircraft, operating on the periphery or moderately inside of the late generation SAM’s WEZ from either a high end business aircraft or the B-1R concept?

    If from the business jet concept, either the Falcon 7X or Gulfstream 650 would be an excellent choice and the B-1R would really add a long range Pacific theater friendly asset. It is 2,900 NM one way from Guam to Taiwan and 650 NM one way from the now defunct Clark AFB, Philippines (assuming they would let you operate from there). Any proposed jammer / missile truck will need great range unrefuelled to not use up air refuelling slots (or too many) from the shorter range F-22s, F/A & E/A – 18s, F-35s, etc… which will need them ingress from their relatively distant and safe bases…

  • Tattertot

    Yes, these are all great responses to what was discussed at the round table but letd face it we are in debt up to hair lines. To incorporate the jammer would be rather costly especially if it’s to be done after it hits our fleet it will be in a down status on the front line while the TD to put a jammer in place which is no easy task or quick. Ask yourselves that question do you really want to have a new bird that is strong in other areas be a “turkey” for a long period of time while their in the fight? I think not and as maintainer with years of aviation avionics tech skills under his belt I would say it’s a bad call. If it is to be done do it at depot level to save us the man hours.

  • Tattertot

    Putting in a jammer in no easy task or quick task. Ask yourselves that question do you really want to have a new bird that is strong in other areas be a “turkey” for a long period of time while their in the fight? I think not and as maintainer with years of aviation avionics tech skills under his belt I would say it’s a bad call. If it is to be done do it at depot level to save us the man hours.

  • RunningBear

    The basic F-35 is the EW variant, it’s built in. As the Marine Corp. has stated, repeatedly, the F-35 has more capability than the EA-6B, F-18C/D and Harrier; combined. The Navy E/A-18G is replacing the Navy EA-6B as an interim until the F-35 is IOC. Then the E/A-18G wil be upgraded to carry the NGJ in pods as replacements for the “updated, state of the art” AN/ALQ-99 in pods. The NGJ will share the latest EW database that is being used to develop the EW for the F-35. The NGJ can be carried by the F-35 (and other a/c) and empowered by offsetting the integrated antennas and transmitters with the existing onboard EW computers. NGJ pods can be VLO, also (they are only a pod). Growlers are funded separately under their own EA-6B replacement program. The Next Generation Jammer NGJ is funded separately under the AN/ALQ-99 replacement program. The F-35 program is not burdened by expanded scope (creap) but enhanced by these additional (related) programs. The E/A-18G wil make an excellent Missle truck than can integrate tightly with the F-35 (aesa to aesa).

    • tiger

      So why develop the x-47b?

      • blight_

        Unmanned. Noting wrong with that.

  • Marcellus Hambrick

    The F-35 is a vastly overrated airplane. It is suppose to be a master of various missions but it is a master of none. Its critics are far more correct about its capabilities than its supporters.

    • Running Bear

      Ha!, Ha!, Ha! I like your specifics. Of course the F-35 is no master of anything being in both develop and test (SSD) and early production (LRIP) and the total in flight todate is less than 50. So….what is your great flying machine? or are you another flightless critic. We’re waiting…….not.

    • Jeff

      The main advantage of the F35 is democratizing technologies that were previously restricted to specialized aircraft by making them available to a greater percentage of aircraft.

      The people that want the F-35 to be a “master” of anything are missing the whole point of a general purpose fighter. “General purpose” means the intent is to make moderate capabilities a broadly available as possible. So while the “combat performance” is generally similar with the F-16s and F-18, where it shines is by providing a broader variaties of capabilities. Its advantage is that the respective services will have to worry less about the distribution of specialized aircraft and will always have some capability present, as opposed to potentially having none, even if it isn’t the “best”.

      • tiger

        That will give a F-35 driver little comfort when a better bird is on his 6 o’clock. It does not fly faster, higher, farther,carry more firepower or outmaneuver anybody. But great, it’s a flying Swiss Army knife…..

        • Pilgrimman

          Do you think before you post?

          • tiger

            Yes, I do…

        • Curt

          Why would it need to do any of those things.

          1. No fighter can fly faster or higher than a MiG-25, does that make the MiG-25 a great fighter?
          2. How much firepower does one aircraft need? Isn’t 6 AMRAAMs in pure fighter mode enough? Maybe if they could carry 2 AIM-9Xs and 10 AMRAAMs using internal and external stores that would be enough? Oh wait… Or do you think your strike aircraft need to carry 6 AMRAAMs and 4000lbs of other ordnance for some reason?
          3. With all aspect weapons, why do you need to outmanuever someone? Not that an F-16 is unmaneuverable, but wouldn’t it be better to see the other guy first? Say with a integrated LPI Radar and all aspect IR detection system?

    • Richard Crankwell

      …and your reasons for saying this are??? (cue the APA/Bill Sweetman nonsense parroting of stuff learned from the internet. Never gets old.)

  • Ken

    Smart CHOICE! 3 variants is already enough drama for the JSF project.