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No plans to build F-35 EW variant

by Mike Hoffman on August 24, 2012

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.

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