Future Super Carrier
Aviation element of the US Navy’s new ‘Gerald R Ford’-class carriers
Vayu’s correspondent Sayan Majumdar writes on the Aviation element of the US Navy’s new Gerald R Ford- class carriers on which he was briefed during his visit to the Euronaval Show in October 2016. This new generation aircraft carrier with revolutionary EMALS system will embark new generation F- 35Cs alongside E- 2D Advanced Hawk Eyes, a formidable combination.
Also: Rafael’s Litening- 5; Irkut at LIMA; Second Yasen- class Submarine; Saab RBS 70NG; Pilatus in 2016; 500th Typhoon; Ronneby’s Gripens; Greek Recce Phantoms; Frisian Flag 2017; Red Flag 17-2.
At the Euronaval show in October 2016, this Vayu correspondent came across a model of the United States Navy’s new generation Gerald R Ford- class aircraft carrier, proudly displaying the futuristic General Atomics Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), capable of launching all types of carrier assets from Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) platforms through multi-role fighters to Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles ( UCAVs). Not surprisingly to this writer, the air wing of the lead warship Gerald R Ford (CVN-78) displayed models of combat proven aviation assets, namely the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet multi-role strike fighter and the Northrop Grumman E- 2C/ D Hawkeye/ Advanced Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning & Control System (AEW&C) platform for assured protection and strategic plus tactical power projection. Newer platforms are likely to complement the combat proven ones in the foreseeable future.
The ‘ strike- oriented heavy duty’ multi-mission F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet is an upgrade of the combat-proven night- strike F/ A- 18C/ D that provided the US Navy with a platform that has range, endurance, and ordnance carriage capabilities comparable to the A-6 Intruder ‘heavy-duty’ strike platform and, as per manufacturer claims, incorporates lower Radar Cross Section ( RCS) technology and other survivability enhancements from the outset. Still it is reasonable to deduce that survivability of the Super Hornet platform chiefly rests on excellent combat proven AN/ALQ-124 Integrated Defensive Countermeasures system (IDECM) system that includes the ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser, the ALE-55 towed decoy (which can transmit jamming signals based on data received from the IDECM) and the AN/ALR-67(V)3 Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) providing coordinated situation awareness and managing the on- board and off-board deception countermeasures, expendable decoys, plus signal and frequency control of emissions.
The US Navy inducted the first operational F/A-18E/F squadron (VFA115) in September 2001, with Super Hornets deployed on board the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) in July 2002. ‘Baptism by fire’ followed shortly thereafter when, in November 2002, the aircraft made its combat entry, striking at air defence installations in Southern Iraq with the Global Positioning System GPS-guided JDAM. Subsequently the aircraft was also deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, and has seen extensive combat employment since.
F/A-18E/F aircraft are of larger size than earlier Hornets, with bigger wing
area, and thereby carry more internal fuel for effective increase of mission range by 41% and endurance by 50% (can be further enhanced with in-flight refuelling procedures and ‘combat-rated’ drop tanks). Their high fuel-fraction in combination with greater weapons-load enable Super Hornets to make fewer sorties into the target area and employ more ‘dogs legs’ or tactically desirable routes, resulting in less threat exposure and enhanced survivability. For the same reason, the aircraft carries the complete complement of ‘smart’ air-to-ground weapons, including the newest precision-GPS/inertial-guided family of joint weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW) and Lockheed Martin AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), so as to stay out of the heaviest ground- based defences while performing the strike role and decimating counterforce infrastructures. A total of 8,000 kg of external load including nuclear and conventional ordnance and associated sensors are carried on eleven weapon stations including two additional wing store stations.
Two General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofan engines provide the Super Hornet with combined thrust of 44,000-pounds thrust in afterburner. Its nine- to- one thrust-to-weight ratio is one of the highest of any modern fighter engine extant, seen as necessary in order to retain air combat potential even with significant strike payload. In the subsonic regime, the performance of F/A-18E/F is “at par or better than” the basic F/A-18C/D. At high Angles-of-Attack (AoA) the symmetrically loaded F/A-18E/F boasts superior roll performance and better handling characteristics in absence of AoA limitations. The F414 combines advanced technology with the proven design base of its F404 predecessor. Design priority was accorded to critical features such as durability, reliability, and easy maintenance. The engine entered production in late 1998, and has accumulated in excess of 3,000,000 flight hours, having entered operational service in the year 2000 on USN F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Latest materials and cooling techniques allow for higher temperatures and pressures without sacrificing component life. The F414 consists of six fully interchangeable modules for easy maintenance while an In-flight Engine Condition Monitoring System (IECMS) keeps pilots informed about engine parameters, allowing them to take action if necessary.
The Super Hornet’s primary sensor is the Raytheon AN/APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, the building block of which is Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit (MMIC) using lithographic-type processes to produce microwave circuits on chips at very high levels of integration. The light antenna, with the array weighing only 95-pounds, reportedly has an extremely low failure rate requiring little to no maintenance over decades. The AN/APG-79 radar enables air- to- air target detection and tracking at long ranges and provides higher resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) air-to-ground mapping while itself remaining largely immune to Electronic Counter Measures (ECM), interference, and interception. The radar can interleave air-toair, air-to-ground and terrain following modes to provide simultaneous assessment in every mode, a highly desirable attribute for a strike fighter in terms of situational awareness. The AN/APG-79 AESA entered low-rate initial production in September
2003 and was integrated with new-build Block II Super Hornets from 2005 onward, while older Block I Super Hornets were retrofitted in later years.
Raytheon’s AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR ( Advanced Targeting Forward- Looking Infra-Red) is deployed for “silent nocturnal approach,” and features both navigation and infrared targeting systems, in particular a third-generation Mid-Wave (3-5 micron) Forward Looking Infra-Red (MWFLIR) for targeting purposes and incorporating staring focal plane array technology. The ATFLIR complements the Super Hornet’s AESA primary sensor. Additional sensors in the ‘package’ include a high-powered diode-pumped laser spot tracker, navigation FLIR and Charged Coupled Device (CCD) TV camera. Standard reconnaissance hardware is the Raytheon Shared Reconnaissance Pod (SHARP). Additionally, an electronic attack version of the Super Hornet, the EA-18G Growler, modified for escort and closein jamming incorporating the Improved Capability III (ICAP III) suite developed for the EA-6B Prowler accompanies F/A-18E/F in strike missions to deal with enemy air defence network and installations.
The Super Hornet is well suited for emerging naval and littoral operations. For anti-ship strike AGM-84 Harpoon is carried as also its land attack variants, the Stand- off Land Attack Missile ( SLAM) and its extended range variant the SLAMER. The AGM-84D Harpoon anti-ship missile was first introduced in 1977 and has undergone numerous upgrades to represent “cutting-edge technology.” Presently the latest air launched anti- ship variant is the AGM- 84D Block 1C with further developments constantly being evaluated to ensure survivability of the missile type for perhaps another decade. The missile maintains a deadly sea-skimming run monitored by a radar altimeter and can execute a deceptive sudden ‘pop-up manoeuvre’ at the terminal phase with guidance provided by an Active- Radar Homing (ARH) seeker. Substantial damage is caused by the penetrative high-explosive (Destex) 215-pound warhead.
While the Harpoon promises to be a formidable destructive weapon, its importance lies in its progressive development to land- attack variants in response to demands for an effective weapon in emerging littoral warfare scenarios. Taking advantage of the extensive technological base that the United States possesses in the field of missile technology, Harpoon AGM-84E Block 1E Stand-Off Land Attack Missile (SLAM) was developed as an enhanced range weapon system for precision strike capability against high value land targets and ships in port, by amalgamating proven technology from other missile systems. The guidance system was modified with an Inertial Navigation System ( INS) with Global Positioning System ( GPS). Infra- Red ( IR) terminal guidance was derived from AGM- 62 Walleye (a highly successful Vietnam Warera munition), the data- link feature of AGM-65 Maverick was incorporated and it is fitted with a Tomahawk warhead for better penetration.
Further upgrade potential became inherent in the process and this materialised in the form of AGM-84E Block 1F SLAMER (Expanded Response). The Missile’s range was enhanced to nearly 300 km with formidable target penetration capability, thanks to the titanium warhead. Another significant attribute was enhancement of control range, which in combination with software improvements allows the pilot to retarget the impact point of the missile even during the terminal phase of attack. In February 2004, the SLAM-ER completed integration on the USN P-3C Orion and all USN SLAM missiles are being retrofitted to the SLAM-ER configuration. Still under development is the AGM-84E Block 1G SLAM-ATA (Automatic Target Acquisition) with re- attack capability and new seeker, perhaps a Digital Scene Matching Area Correlator ( DSMAC). Variants of SLAM- ER/ ATA appear to be capable of conducting successful counterforce operations against enemy high value assets including nuclear infrastructures by conventional strikes alone (a significant advantage) yet stay clear from anticipated heaviest enemy ground-based defences.
The Harpoon Block II presently in production is intended to offer an expanded engagement envelope, enhanced resistance to Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) and improved targeting in littoral waters. The key improvements of the Harpoon Block II are obtained by incorporating the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) from the JDAM program, and the software, computer, GPS/inertial navigation system and GPS antenna/receiver from the SLAM-ER.
For BVR combat, including cruise missile interception in concert with suitable AEW&C platforms, the AN/APG-79 AESA radar is crucial to Super Hornet operations. F/ A- 18E/ F fleets operating alongside F- 22 Raptor and F- 35 Lightning II fleets at middle altitudes around 25,00030,000-ft “at different layers” are projected to operate in an extended picket line to track cruise missiles from the “less stealthy” beam aspect. The primary weapon under such circumstances is projected to be a specific variant AIM-120C AMRAAM, the AIM-120C-6 with an improved seeker and an updated TDD (Target Detection Device) to optimise the explosive cone of destruction for small, slow targets in a headon engagement and incorporates improved fusing through a new quadrant target-
detection device. The “set-piece moves” of the USAF and USN fighters including Super Hornets include approach to a wave of cruise missiles head-on, get in a first shot and then turn for a second and third shot from behind. The follow-on AIM-120C-7 (P3I Phase 3) incorporates improved Electronic Counter-Counter Measures (ECCM) with jamming detection, an upgraded seeker, and longer range. The AESA set in addition with secure, interoperable technology can also be modified to send and receive large amounts of information at extremely high data rates with minimal “leakage” to force multipliers such as AEW&C platforms, UAVs and ground stations to enhance situational awareness.
Close-combat effectiveness and punch is further provided by incorporation of the Boeing-developed Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) and Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder close-combat missile. The AIM- 9X uses an extremely agile thrust- vector controlled airframe along with a mature staring focal plane array IR sensor to facilitate extremely high off-boresight acquisition and launch envelopes, greatly enhanced manoeuvrability and improved target acquisition ranges to provide a ‘first shot – first kill’ advantage. For future enhancements, the digital design architecture of the missile provides inherent growth capability. An Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) sensor, the IRST21 is entering service, mounted on a modified centreline fuel tank to provide additional “silent” support to AIM-9X. For ‘eyeball to eyeball confrontation’ the gun system is General Dynamics M61A2, with a selectable firing rate of 4,000 or 6,000 shots per minute.
For ‘guidance’ to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet, the Northrop Grumman E- 2D Advanced Hawkeye AEW& C platform successfully meets the parameters regarding presentation of an integrated air and surface picture of the area under surveillance in adverse weather conditions and in dense electronic environment, airborne surveillance, detection and tracking of both airborne and surface contacts and control of air interceptions and air strikes. After all, for assured protection of aircraft carrier strike groups, the attacking airborne missile platforms need to be destroyed well before their munitions are released. Fixedwing AEW&C platforms have superior coverage of airspace and more importantly have the ability to guide and control shipborne fighters towards their targets, both in air defence and strike missions, an attribute lacking in the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) helicopter platforms.
The ancestry of the E-2D of course dates back to E-2A variant, which gained operational status over 50 years ago aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) in 1965, giving the E-2 the longest production run of any carrier-based aircraft. During the Vietnam War Hawkeyes initially operated in support of USN F- 4 Phantoms and F-8 Crusaders performing armed Combat Air Patrol (CAP) to cover strike elements. Subsequently Hawkeye platforms started to control strike missions, guiding USN strike packages of F-4 Phantoms and A-6 Intruders around high ground and defensive concentrations, and warning them of enemy interceptors in the vicinity. However the primary role of the E- 2 Hawkeye is to operate as an all-weather AEW&C platform to the naval task force capable of area and on-station search. From an operating altitude of 25,000 to 30,000 ft, the Hawkeye warns the naval task force of approaching air threats and provides threat identification and positional data to interceptors. Secondary roles include strike command and control, surveillance, guidance of search and rescue missions including support for anti-hijack operations and as a relay to extend the range of communications between the airborne platforms and the Combat Information Centre (CIC) of the parent aircraft carrier.
The E-2C with the APS-120 radar made its operational debut with VAW-123 aboard USS Saratoga bound for the Mediterranean Sea in September 1974. This version was first to acquire a decent ‘over-land’ capability. A Hawkeye is usually one of the first aircraft to leave a carrier’s deck after commencement of air operations, and the fuselage is designed for carrier operations, fitted with a catapult attachment for accelerated carrier take-off, an A-frame arrester hook for engagement of the arresting gear and a tail bumper to withstand impact or scraping on the runway. At on-station search mode the E-2C flies at around 25,000 to 30,000 feet at a distance of 370 km from the parent carrier in a constant orbit, gaining altitude steadily as fuel burns off. The flaps are set at 10- degrees to provide the optimum 3-degrees radar-scanning attitude. The new Allison T56A-427 engines, each rated at 5,100-shaft horsepower, allow the E-2C to cruise on station for more than four hours.
During the 1990s the then recently introduced APS- 138 advanced radar processing system enabled detection, identification and tracking both over land and sea in excess of 450 km and with expanded computer memory was able to accomplish triangulation automatically. Advanced passive detection enabled ‘silent’ recognition and classification of hostile electronic emissions at ranges well in excess of the on board radar. A pair of Litton L-304 computers handled data processing. Data inputs or request for information were made either by means of an alphanumeric keyboard or by a light- pen which was usually used to ‘hook’ a specific USN F-14 Tomcat interceptor to a specific target by feeding relevant target information to the interceptor weapons control system by means of a data-link. The developing tactical situations were presented by means of the Hazeltine APA-172 control indicator group
to the mission control room located in the rear fuselage directly beneath the radome and included the Combat Information Centre Officer (CICO), Air Control Officer and the Radar Operator on identical crew stations of 10-inch diameter main radar display screens, providing data pertaining to target tracks and 5-inch alphanumeric auxiliary display. Independent control at each station enabled crewmembers to select relevant information and data to be presented including target symbols, velocity vectors, and disposition of friendly fighter forces, surface task groups and waypoints. The CICO remained in radio contact with the air defence commander, usually stationed on a Ticonderoga- class Aegis missile cruiser and if the CICO encountered a radar hit that was not sending out aircraft-identification signals from an on- board transponder, the E-2C’s Air Control Officer zoomed in on the inbound track and passed the relevant data to the air defence fighters and interceptors engaged in CAP duty.
Presently the 24-ft diameter radome houses the AN/APA-171 antenna supplied by Randtron Systems rotating at a rate of five to six rpm. The Lockheed Martin AN/APS-145 radar is capable of tracking more than 2,000 targets and controlling the interception of 40 hostile targets. One radar sweep covers 6 million cubic miles. The radar’s total radiation aperture control antenna reduces side lobes and is sufficiently robust against Electronic Counter Measures ( ECM). It is now capable of detecting hostile airborne targets at ranges greater than 550 km, and even cruise missiles with Radar Cross Section (RCS) of 1 sq m or less can be detected at around 185 km. This serves as a critical advantage as even hostile submarines are likely to attack with sea-skimming antiship missiles and cruise missiles, thus ASW screening becomes analogous to air defence and often the mere presence of incoming cruise missiles will serve as the only warning of an impending attack.
The latest mission computers are equipped with an enhanced high- speed parallel processor. The Lockheed Martin AN/ UYQ- 70 advanced display system and computer peripherals provide the operators with multi-colour displays, map overlays, zoom facilities and auxiliary data displays. In August 2005, Northrop Grumman completed the E-2C mission computer replacement programme, with the provision of faster, more powerful and reliable computers. The communications suite includes an AN/ARC-158 Ultra High Frequency (UHF) data link, an AN/ARQ34 High Frequency (HF) datalink and a Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS).
The current- generation standard E- 2C ‘ Hawkeye 2000’ made its first operational deployment in 2003 aboard USS Nimitz in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Hawkeye 2000 features a smaller and lighter Raytheon Mission Computer Upgrade ( MCU) based on open architecture commercial off- theshelf (COTS) technology, with increased memory and faster processing. More importantly Co- operative Engagement Capability (CEC) consists of processor, data distribution system and antenna and to enable Hawkeye 2000 to perform realtime Battle Management ( BM), fusing and distributing information from sources such as satellite and ship-borne radar. Also included in the “package” are Lockheed Martin Advanced Control Indicator Set ( ACIS), Satellite Communications (SATCOM) and pristine navigation and flight control systems while Electronic Support Measures (ESM) equipment has been upgraded. From May 2004 onwards, USN Hawkeye 2000 aircraft are being fitted with Hamilton Sundstrand NP2000 digitally controlled eight-bladed propellers.
E-2D Advanced Hawkeye
The Hawkeye meanwhile remains well within its development cycle with development proceeding on the nextgeneration E-2D Advanced Hawkeye with emphasis on Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2) capable of serving as a ‘digital quarterback’ to sweep ahead of strike missions, manage aircraft, and keep net-centric carrier battle groups out of harm’s way. Having attained Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in October 2014, the E-2D is fitted with Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors-developed sophisticated AN/APY-9 nextgeneration solid-state, electronically steered Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) radar with new Electronically Scanned Array (ESA) antenna ( Northrop Grumman supplies the transmitter, Raytheon the receiver, L-3 Communications Randtron the UHF antenna and BAE Systems CNIR the IFF system) that supports Advanced AEW Surveillance ( AAS), Enhanced Sector Scan (ESS) and pure electronic scanning Enhanced Tracking Sector (ETS) radar modes performing 360-degrees scanning allowing flight operators to focus the radar on select areas of interest (including targets in air and sea surface simultaneously), SpaceTime Adaptive Processing (STAP) software, enabling the hybrid AN/APY-9 ESA radar to pick small Radar Cross Section (RCS) flying targets out of a background of rough terrain and urban sprawl, digital receivers, plus Adaptive Detection System (ADS) -18/Rotary Coupler Assembly (RCA) with co-aligned advanced Identification Friend or Foe (IFF).
The range of AN/ APY- 9 may be deduced to be at least at 400 km, more likely to be limited only by the E- 2D radar horizon. The radar significantly enhances Theatre Missile Defence (against TBMs) plus air defence capabilities in the littorals, overland and open sea, thanks further to multi-sensor integration and a Northrop Grumman Navigation Systems fully integrated ‘all glass’ tactical cockpit for expanded battlespace awareness. To spread the workload, the new design gives the copilot a scope of his own so he can participate in the E-2D’s tactical mission when he is not helping fly the platform.
Added E-2D features include Electronic Support Measures (ESM) enhancements in form of AN/ALQ-217, new mission computer and tactical workstations with the Combat Information Centre (CIC) is equipped with 20-inch diagonal Active Matrix Liquid Crystal Display (AMLCD) supporting 8- bits per colour RGB and 256 shades of grey with wide viewing angle (± 75 degrees horizontal and + 40 degrees/-30 degrees vertical), and modernised communications and data-link suite. The operating height of 25,000 ft above forward-deployed fleets will enable the E-2D’s AN/ APY-9 radar to detect hostile incoming missiles at ranges great enough to allow for organisation of an effective fleet defence, while the slow 474-km/hr cruise speed is bound to maximise target observation time, to collect airborne target and electronic emitter data from well beyond the radar horizon of surface ships. The E-2D can then feed this to fighter aircraft, shipboard missile defences and the newly emerging Global Information Grid (GIG). In the more conventional role of ‘maritime sentinel,’ E-2Ds will be able to communicate directly with aircraft carrier battle groups, fighter
aircraft, communications satellites, UAVs, submarines, Search and Rescue ( SAR) platforms and C& C centres. Improved Rolls-Royce T56-A-427A engines feature a propulsion system control, monitoring and maintenance system along with emergency power rating to increase single-engine rate of climb. Hamilton Sundstrand NP2000 digitally controlled, eight-bladed propellers provide less vibration and noise. An indevelopment in-flight refueling capability will extend mission endurance to twelve hours.
Projected to replace all 75 USN E-2C AEW& C platforms, the first System Development & Demonstration (SD&D) E-2D (Delta One) made its maiden flight on 3 August 2007 with Northrop Grumman Flight Test Pilot Tom Boutin and USN Flight Test Pilot Lt. Drew Ballinger along with Northrop Grumman Flight Test Lead Weapon Systems Operator Zyad Hajo. On 30 July 2010, the first production E-2D was transferred to the USN’s Airborne Early Warning Squadron VAW-120 based in Norfolk. On 3 February 2011, an E-2D assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 20 (VX-20) landed on the eighth Nimitz- class carrier USS Harry S Truman ( CVN 75) to initiate carrier suitability testing. IOC was attained in October 2014 with VAW- 125 aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), and on 11 March 2015, the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group departed Naval Station Norfolk and returned to port on 23 November 2015, concluding the first operational use of the E-2D.
Additionally, in USN operations the E- 2D will be the first platform in the distributed missile defence network to detect a cruise missile launched from a groundbased mobile platform. Responding to this time- critical threat, the E- 2D, utilising FORCEnet-enabled communications, will alert a Ticonderoga- class Aegis cruiser of the launch and will provide continuous cueing information until the Aegis can destroy the missile. Simultaneously, collaborating with satellite Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets, the E-2D will direct an UAV to precisely locate and identify the launch platform. As the airborne battle manager, the E-2D will relay this information to strike aircraft to deliver precision-guided weapons to eliminate the launcher before it can reposition or launch a second attack.
With a two- generation leap in radar technology and improved data processing and communications the E- 2D is the foundation for Theatre Air Missile Defence, a key element in the ‘Sea Shield’ portion of the USN’s ‘Sea Power 21’ transformation plan. In addition, the system fulfils an ever-expanding role in ‘Sea Strike,’ with improved detection and tracking capability in littoral and overland operations. Utilising its open-architecture network connectivity, it is a key FORCE net enabler and provides the ability to coordinate time- critical targeting and time-critical strike operations. The Hawkeye’s performance in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrated how dynamic and flexible the weapon system is in a joint force battle engagement.
Undoubtedly the E- 2D Advanced Hawkeye is critical in the transformation of combat elements to a fully networked joint combat force, providing airborne battlespace command and control well into the 21st century.
An E-2D Advanced Hawkeye seen with wings folded on the deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt (photo: Angad Singh)