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South Korea’s Secret Weapon to Crush North Korea’s Air Defense Network

Advanced Air Force requirements: electronic warfare capability
The military invests $1.4 billion in electronic warfare R&D
South Korea adopts a stand-off jamming, distinct from the U.S

하늘의 마법사 ‘EA-18G’ 그라울러…北 거미줄 방공망 뚫을 세계 최강 전자전기[이현호 기자의 밀리터리!톡]
The initial EA-18G was introduced to provide a powerful electronic warfare shield for aircraft carrier air wings. Still, it is evaluated as the most powerful electronic warfare aircraft due to its outstanding electronic warfare capabilities. The Ministry of National Defense provided the photo.

Catching Stealth Aircraft, Too! EA-18G Growler

The ‘F-22’ Raptor, the main fighter of the U.S. Air Force, is a fifth-generation stealth fighter with the most powerful attack capabilities. It’s an ‘electronic warplane’ that incapacitated radar with radio interference and shot down the world’s strongest F-22 in a simulated aerial battle. The “Magician of the Sky,” the EA-18G Growler, comes equipped with the most advanced electronic warfare weapons.

As electronic warfare becomes more important, countries are rushing to develop electronic attack aircraft. The EA-18G Growler, operated by the U.S. Navy, is the world’s most powerful electronic warfare aircraft.

Boeing is producing the EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft, nicknamed “Growling Man.” The EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft, which took its first flight on August 15, 2006, made more than 160 units. It stands out from other countries’ electronic warfare aircraft because developers based it on a carrier-based fighter. Also, it has various electronic warfare equipment based on the two-seat fighter F/A-18F Super Hornet. EA-18G performs missions to jam enemy air defense networks and suppress and destroy air defenses.

Electronic Warfare Tactics and Methods

Electronic warfare aircraft use the Stand Off Jamming method, which electronically interferes with enemy air defense networks from a distance. On the other hand, the EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft can use the remote support jamming method to penetrate deep into enemy lines and perform close air support jammer and escort support jammer. In the case of a strike package, it is an essential aircraft for forming and surviving an attack squadron composed of multiple fighters. Two EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft are typically mobilized for a strike package.

In particular, it equips the AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missile, unlike other electronic warfare aircraft, and suppresses and destroys enemy air defense networks. It also carries the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile for air combat and includes communication jamming equipment to disrupt enemy communications. For example, during the Iraq War, the EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft used communication jamming equipment to prevent the explosion of improvised explosive devices using communication equipment such as mobile phones.

하늘의 마법사 ‘EA-18G’ 그라울러…北 거미줄 방공망 뚫을 세계 최강 전자전기[이현호 기자의 밀리터리!톡]
The U.S. military’s EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft is taking off from the runway—photo provided by the U.S. Air Force.

Real-World Impact of Electronic Warfare

How does electronic warfare unfold? For example, let’s assume that the electronic warfare aircraft EA-18G Growler performs electronic warfare against the Chinese J-20 fighter.

In peacetime, the United States launches electronic reconnaissance aircraft such as the RC-135V/W/U in the western sky to analyze and replicate the radio information of the radar and communication equipment used by the Chinese J-20 fighter. The electronic warfare aircraft EA-18G Growler stores this copied radio information. Therefore, when it detects the radar wave of the actually flying nearby J-20 fighter, the Growler initiates a jamming operation. It uses a jammer mounted on the aircraft to fire interference waves at the J-20 fighter’s radar.

In this way, the radar sends a wave and receives the reflected wave that hits the target. Then, it processes the data to identify the target. In other words, if a wave other than the reflection of the wave the radar itself sent enters the radar receiver, the radar and analysis computer falls into ‘panic’ and becomes useless. At this time, the display in the cockpit that should detect the radar and inform the result becomes entirely blacked out.

The actual combat experience of the U.S. military has proved the power of the electronic warfare aircraft. During the Gulf War in 1990, the U.S. Air Force also incapacitated the Iraqi Air Force and air defense network with EF-111 and EC-130H electronic warfare aircraft. There are also records of electronic warfare aircraft playing a significant role in various battles, such as the Kosovo air strike (1999), the Iraq invasion (2003), the Libya air strike (2011), and the Syria air strike (2018).

Challenges in Acquiring Electronic Warfare Aircraft

On the other hand, our Air Force has long been pushing for the introduction of electronic warfare aircraft from the United States, but it is sluggish. Currently, the electronic warfare pod mounted on the electronic warfare aircraft contains all the radio characteristics information of radar and communication equipment collected by the United States from around the world. However, it is classified as a susceptible strategic asset. Australia is the only country other than the United States that has introduced the EA-18G Growler. Even then, only the aircraft is operated by the Australian Air Force. Therefore, Australia also needs help from the United States. The U.S. military stores the core equipment jammer during peacetime and is only provided under the supervision of the U.S. military when the Australian army needs it.

하늘의 마법사 ‘EA-18G’ 그라울러…北 거미줄 방공망 뚫을 세계 최강 전자전기[이현호 기자의 밀리터리!톡]
The EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft belonging to the U.S. Navy is frequently deployed in Korea in preparation for a similar situation on the Korean Peninsula—photo provided by the U.S. Navy.

South Korea’s Strategy for Domestic Development

Fortunately, the South Korean military has decided to develop an electronic warfare aircraft (electronic warfare aircraft) with domestic technology. South Korean researchers and developers will handle the mission equipment installed here even when importing the plane from overseas.

At the 152nd Defense Project Promotion Committee held on April 13, officials deliberated and decided on this basic strategy for promoting electronic warfare aircraft projects. The budget for this is about $1.6 billion, and the project period is from next year to 2032. Under current laws, officials subject large-scale projects of $43 million to a feasibility study and formulate final plans after reviewing the necessity and economic feasibility.

The defense industry observes that LIG Nex1 will likely take charge of the internal system of domestic electronic warfare aircraft development. LIG Nex1 also handled the new Baekdu reconnaissance aircraft project. It has developed know-how by including the FISINT function, which determines whether an actual missile has been launched, along with COMINT and ELINT, in its development.

Technical Details and Future Plans

The military is expected to propose a jamming distance of 250km (155 miles) for the ROC of the electronic warfare aircraft. They believe that deploying 5-6 electronic warfare aircraft with this level of performance as attack squadrons can instantly destroy the quadruple air defense network in Pyongyang, North Korea. However, there are criticisms that it is questionable how effective the remote support jamming method, the Stand Off Jamming method that the ADD is trying to develop, will be in the mountainous Korean Peninsula.

The jamming distance of the EA-18G Growler operated by the U.S. military is known to be 150km (93 miles). However, the U.S. Navy has developed a next-generation electronic warfare system (NGJ) and increased the jamming distance. It was developed into high-band, mid-band, and low-band systems, and the jamming distance alone is 360km (224 miles).

Experts evaluate it as an efficient strategic weapon to incapacitate Russian S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft missiles targeting stealth aircraft such as the B-2 bomber and F-35 fighter. The U.S. Navy plans to equip main fighters like the F-35 stealth aircraft and F/A-18 Super Hornet with the NGJ by introducing 135 sets of NGJ for the EA-18G in the future.

Importance and Function of Electronic Warfare Aircraft

Electronic warfare aircraft are special mission aircraft modified from existing aircraft to perform electronic warfare by installing various aviation electronic equipment. It uses electronic equipment and jamming devices to hinder the enemy’s communication network and anti-aircraft radar. Electronic warfare aircraft are generally divided into two types: escort jammers based on fighters and large stand-off jammers based on transport or jet aircraft.

The electronic warfare aircraft to be introduced by our military is a medium-to-large aircraft-based stand-off jammer. However, it is not a typical stand-off jammer type. This is because it is also a signal information machine during peacetime. It performs tasks such as collecting signal information against enemy countries such as North Korea and eavesdropping on communication equipment. It also gathers radar information. Since it has both the function of collecting information on communication bands and jamming, it has no choice but to equip a large antenna, so it cannot use fighters or attack aircraft.

By. Lee Hyun Ho

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