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Amid US-China EW Battle, US Shows Off Its Next-Gen EC-37B ‘Compass Call’ Electronic Warfare Plane

The US Air Force (USAF) released new photos of its in-development next-generation Compass Call Electronic Warfare (EW) jet, called the EC-37B, which is slated to replace the USAF’s existing fleet of EC-130H jets currently used for Compass Call missions.

The video and the images of the EC-37B are from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, which houses the USAF’s 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG), which will be the sole operator of the aircraft, once completed, for Compass Call missions.

Compass Call missions involve disruption of enemy command and control communications, radar, and navigation systems to limit the adversary coordination essential for enemy force management.

Furthermore, the Compass Call system also has a secondary intelligence gathering functionality, enabling it to detect, track and geolocate a broad range of emitters.

The EC-130H jets currently deployed for the Compass Call missions form a Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) triad with the EA-6B or EA-18G and F-16CJ.

The EC-130H is a highly capable EW jet that has played an essential role in the US wars in the Middle East, jamming communications and remote controls of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) belonging to militant groups such as the Islamic State and Taliban.

However, the type’s airframes are all decades-old, with some of them dating back to the Vietnam war, and therefore the USAF, in 2017, awarded a contract to L3Harris Technologies to carry out the Compass Call’s ‘cross deck’ program.

As part of the contract, L3Harris will take out the existing EW equipment of the legacy EC-130Hs to be installed into the new Gulfstream G550 business jets, which will form the airframe of the new EC-37B. Not all the EW equipment aboard the new EC-37B will be drawn from the legacy aircraft; some will be new.

An EC-37B Compass Call at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona (USAF)

BAE Systems will also partner with LHR Harris and Gulfstream to oversee the integration of mission systems with the EC-37B.

EC-37B Compass Call Electronic Warfare Aircraft

The initial flights of the first EC-37B Compass Call aircraft began in August 2021. These tests involved high-altitude flights at around 40,000 feet and other tests to ensure that the aircraft could operate in a low-temperature environment.

These tests were meant to qualify the structural modifications made by L3Harris to the G550 airframe to incorporate massive amounts of electronic equipment.

The new EC-37B, when complete, will reportedly fly at much higher altitudes and more incredible speeds than the older EC-130H jets.

The ceiling of the EC-130H is 25,000 feet, and the aircraft can fly at a maximum speed of roughly 483 kmph. In contrast, the G550 airframe can usually fly into the mid-40,000-feet range at twice the top speed of EC-130H, thereby offering an expanded range for its EW systems to target.

EC-130H Compass Call departs Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (Wikipedia)

Also, based on a commercially available G550 airframe, the EC-37B is expected to be easier for the USAF to maintain, bringing down the maintenance time and costs and reducing aircraft downtime.

As EurAsian Times reported, the new EC-37B is developed using novel digital engineering methods. The equipment is first modeled on a computer and then undergoes a typical and time-consuming acquisition and testing process.

An EC-37B Compass Call at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona (USAF)

Brig. Gen. Tad Clark, director of the US Air Force’s electromagnetic spectrum superiority directorate, said in April that as part of the digital engineering process, software coders and engineers are working with Compass Call operators on the ground to figure out creative ways to jam enemy signals.

The USAF plans to acquire 14 EC-37Bs to replace its 14 EC-130H, five of which have already been retired as of 2021, and another two are slated to retire this year.

US Military’s Aerial Electronic Warfare Capability  

Once officially inducted into the service, the EC-37Bs will be the new face of USAF’s Compass Call missions, adding to the US military’s evolving airborne EW capability, which will play a massive role during a potential future conflict with a near-peer adversary like China.

As EurAsian Times recently reported, US and China allegedly engaged in reconnaissance and electronic warfare before and after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly deployed its J-16D electronic warfare aircraft and Type 055 destroyer to try and locate the aircraft transporting Pelosi to Taiwan. Still, almost all of the PLA’s EW equipment was allegedly jammed by electronic interference from US aircraft.

According to reports, the PLA and US military were interested in testing each other’s EW capabilities years after the Taiwan strait crisis of 1995-96, when American forces jammed almost all the PLA’s military radar systems during its missile tests.

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