27 June 2008

History of the Navy's EW mission part 1

With the arrival of the EF-18G, I started to think about the history of the EW mission in the Navy and its possible future.

To start with we actually need to go all the way back to the World War Two. Right around 1943 the Navy through its Naval Research Laboratories started to work on smaller and lighter radar sets to be mounted on fighter aircraft such as the F4U and the F6F. That way these aircraft could be used to defend the fleet from night time snoopers. Along with that the NRL's were also working hard on radars so the torpedo, scouting, and bombing squadron could hunt for the enemy fleet at longer ranges and in worst weather then what the good ol'mark one human eye ball could find. As a side project a couple of the Naval Research Labs realized that if they were doing this then there might also be a way to create a way to an active way to disable enemy radars. At the time the only way to defeat a radar was through the use of something called Chaff or as the Brits called it "Window". Basically it was aluminum foil cut to certain lengths and dropped in huge bundles. This created a large blossom of reflected energy on the radar scope. Think of your classic radar scope and where there should be clear area there is a huge blot on it. That is what Chaff can do. The downside of Chaff is that it is pretty static, in that once you drop the stuff it just hangs there till it falls to the ground. On top of that you need to cut this stuff to the specific radio frequency that the bad guys are using. So if you guess wrong, well then it again isn't as effective. So that is where what is called active electronic counter measures comes in. This idea is that instead of using something passive like chaff, one uses electronic energy to "attack" the enemy radar sites. The scientists fiddled around and discovered that if you are able to "look" at the radar signal then mess with the return signal then hiding from the radar sites for longer were possible. One of the first aircraft to be converted to an electronic countermeasures aircraft was a Grumman aircraft.
The venerable TBF/TBM Avenger was modified into numerous different versions and types both during World War 2 and after the war. One of these variants was the early version of the Carrier On board Delievery (or COD) called the TBM-3R. Another version using the TBM-3R airframe was something called TBM-3Q. This aircraft started to see its development in 1945 and wasn't accepted to service until 1946. The basic differences between the TBM-3Q and the regular bomber version was that it replaced the after powered turret with faired over hole where an operator sat at looking at a radar scope, a pulse scope, and finally had the controls to operate the basic jamming system. The aircraft had installed the Yagi direction finding system installed in it as well as the APS-4 surface search radar system. On top of that it was still able to carry bombs and rockets under its wings. The Navy bought enough of these to try and issue about five to six of them out to the torpedo bombing groups in the post war carrier air wings. These aircraft only served with the Navy for two years from 1946 until 1948. Where they were replaced by the new Navy attack aircraft from the Douglas company and the design mind of Ed Heinemann

When the AD-1 Skyraider was accepted into the fleet it was realized that the old TBM-3Q couldn't keep up with the new hot rod attack aircraft being built by Douglas. So they asked the Douglas Aircraft Company to modify 35 of the AD-1's that were being produced to include space in the fuselage of the aircraft for an ECM operator along with all his gear. It was a tight fit, but they were able to install a little door on the port side of the aircraft and make room for a single man in the fuselage right behind the cockpit tub. Douglas also added a blister on the underside of the aircraft where the radiating antenna and air scoop for the electronics were located. Also permanently installed on the starboard wing was the same APS-4 radar set that the TBM-3Q had.
As structural difficulties lead to the replacement of the AD-1 with the AD-2 so to the AD-1Q was replaced by the AD-2Q. Same set up as before with the AD-1Q. They also installed a pod on the port side to hold chaff as well. So the AD-2Q could go and mess with the enemy radar signal or it could drop chaff along an approach path to hid the air group from enemy air defense systems.
As improvements came with the introduction of the AD-3 into fleet service AD-3Q was accepted into service as well. The AD-3Q's were in used in Korea where they used the ECM skills to jam the radar control anti-aircraft artillery the North Korean and People's Republic of China armies used to defend such things as rail depots, bridges, and other high value targets.

Most of the Q-birds were assigned to a fleet composite squadron where they were mixed with other specialized mission aircraft such as the AD-3N, F2H-2N's, AD-3W's, and those aircraft configured as special weapons delivery aircraft. Some of these squadrons were units such as VC-33, VC-11, VC-12, VC-35, VMC-1. Something else while I am taking the quick break. I realize that I might need to explain how to decipher the cryptic aircraft designation system that the Navy Department used up until 1962. Basically the alpha numeric code used to describe an airplane told you what the primary mission of the aircraft was, who the manufacture was, and what production variant it was. Any other codes following that described any additional missions that were added on to the airframe.

So for example TBM-3Q actually equals out like this:

  • T=Torpedo
  • B=Bomber
  • M=General Motors manufacture
  • 3= Third production variant
  • Q=Special Electronic mission

Or as in the example AD-1Q it would read like this:

  • A=Attack
  • D=Douglas Aircraft Company
  • 1=First version produced
  • Q=Special electronic mission

Any questions? Ah yes you in the back, what you don't completely understand it? Okay see if this crib sheet might help you out. Okay schools out. When we come back we will pick this up from the AD-4Q and work our way on up to the possible future of the Navy/Marine Corps EW birds.

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26 June 2008

Should I taste the Kool-Aid?

The Growler has now been up here at Whidbey for about week. The first production variant straight from the factory in St. Louis arrived here on the 3rd of June. About two days after the main body of my squadron arrived. I have yet to see it actually fly mind you all. Let alone what the whole set up in the cockpit looks like. I will probably find a way to duck out of work some day walk down to the RAG and ask for a hook up from one of the guys that I know working there. That way I can get a chance to sit in the cockpit and look at all the new cool toys.

On the flip side of this equation there appears to still be some serious teething issues going on. As I write this it is the 27th of June and according to the word on the flight line, this wolf has yet to pass its acceptance FCF. Let alone there were some tools from the production line found inside the jet and bags of fasteners found in other places. Time will tell what is going to happen and how this is all going to succeed on the EF-18G. There are still kinks to be worked out but hopefully all will go well.

Meanwhile on my side of the EW world, I have to strip two jets down and get them ready for the interim modification by a field support team. The interim mod is going to install some of the cool features of the EF-18G like digital ICS, improved IFF system, and digital flight control system. The digital flight controls isn't a true fly by wire like the F-18's have. Rather it is a frankenstein design, an improved computer compared to the older one and it has a better response time when in autopilot and an auto carrier pilot landing system. Meanwhile there is also talk of taking another look at some of the older EA-6B's and if they are under the flight hours restriction sending them to the Naval Air Depot for further upgrade to ICAP III with the new and improve ICS, IFF, DFCS, and the new ECM suite. Some one up the line has gotten smart and decided that it might make sense to simplify down to only have two different variants floating out in the supply system instead of the way the F-14 folks did it (with F-14B's, F-14A's, and F-14D's out there in the fleet). Again time will tell if logic will prevail or if there will be a Dilbert style leadership intervention to prevent that bit of logic to escape into the wild.

I am sure some of you readers will want to know, but personally I think the name "Growler" sucks big time for the name of a jet. The reason is that to my sailor like mind the term just conjures up the thought of an action that is supposed to be very private. :) I would of preferred something more interesting like the "Shocker" . I have also heard the term "Electric Bug" or even "Lightening Bug" by some people around here.

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25 June 2008

Geeky fan boy moment

I want to get this off my chest right here and right now. I have one geeky fanboy obsession. That is GI Joe. As a child of the 1980's I grew up watching the cartoon and having the action figures. I remember having the huge GI Joe Skystriker and remember seeing the live action ones fly over my head while as a kid in Virginia Beach, Va. It didn't matter to me that those jets I saw flying over my house were US Navy F-14's. In my mind at the time I thought they were just waiting for the likes of Ace to take them up and do battle with. I use to annoy my mother by having huge out battles in the living room with all the different figures, vehicles, and bases. Leaving them out while she tried to clean up prior to having guests over.
I also liked to imagine that some place, some where there really was a special Anti-terrorism force only answerable to the President in charge to protect us from evil terrorist group called Cobra. As per the norm with any childhood obsession though as one grows up it is filter by age and time. So my fun and coolness about GI Joe fell out of favor as other interests took up my time. It wasn't rekindled until I happen to run across a bunch of comic books featuring GI Joe. The obsession was rekindled. Now I hear there is a live action movie in the works and it is supposed to come out next summer some time. I can't wait, hopefully it will come out before I deploy on cruise.

Okay now back to the regularly scheduled programing.

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23 June 2008

No rest for the weary

So I finally received orders in hand for my next unit. So I am basically going down the flight line for another sea tour, my third since coming into the US Navy in 1998. So now I have all sorts of transfer paperwork to go through prior to leaving the Zappers. The first is getting my medical knocked out and then deciding on when I am going to transfer. So the debate with myself is when I am going to transfer. I have to deal is I am authorized with thirty days of leave. Knowing that though and I have to report no later then the 19th of December means if take the full thirty then I will probably have to pull the double holiday shift when Christmas and the New Year comes up. On the other hand I could just take a couple of weeks off check in early and then try to wheel and deal to get at least the four days around Christmas off. That way I can spend time with the Fiancee and the rest of the family.

I also took some time today before getting home from work to travel and talk to my next unit. With in about a month of checking in to the new unit, they will start work-up cycle to deploy. I get a chance to go on deployment with them in July of next year. There are advantages to this and disadvantages.
  • The biggest disadvantage is that I am going to be gone from the future Mrs. Pirate for about 6 months during that cruise.
  • The advantage is I should be home again before the major family holidays later that year. Unlike last time where I was gone through the holidays.
  • Disadvantage is that even though I am getting married and the stress of trying to combine two households. There are somethings I won't be there to do such as helping to make the decorating decisions and helping to paint a room with whatever paint scheme we have decided on. Discussing on what furniture will go where and other fun single house hold topics such as that.
  • Advantage: I need to replace my pick-up truck. Beyond the fact that gas is about five thousand dollars a gallon, it is also hit that point where any repairs I do to it will be the same as the blue book value. I have hit that point where it isn't economical to keep anymore. So I get a new car this summer and will have a larger chunk of the loan pay it off with the cash from deployment.
  • Advantage: I don't want to sound like this, but again going on deployment and working hard on saving money. I should also be able to pay back the debt of the upcoming wedding.
  • Did I mention the biggest disadvantage was being separated from loved ones?

I guess it is true there is no rest for the weary.

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13 June 2008

Just did it

So as you all know from a couple of days ago, I am home and living life again back in the good ol' US of A. One of the things that I did while on my two weeks of vacation was bring my significant other out to the east coast with me. Mainly to see my family and introduce everyone all around. While out there as well on the last night I was in town I proposed to my significant other and asked her to become Mrs. Southern Air Pirate.
Now I need find time in my schedule to plan a wedding. A couple of my close cousins have basically told me to just accept that anything I pick out will be viewed as wrong by the future misses and if I am lucky my future mother-in-law will not be making faces at me while I sit there and wade through what the china will look like nor what the stationary for the invites will look like.
Will just have to wait and see what comes down the pipeline. I do know that I am at a minimum a few months off from getting married. This will definitely change everything that I have going on in my life. I am excited and dreading the moment all at the same time. I can't explain why, but I am.



12 June 2008

Home at last

So after 7 months of fun and excitement on board a United States Navy aircraft carrier. I took a week to see various friends and relatives in and around the nation's first capital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Caught the red eye out of Philly International last night and got home around midnight this morning. Finally glad to be home. The really fun thing that I am going to be using my remaining vacation time is going through a Mount Rushmore size pile of junk mail and regular mail.