Lt. Col. Todd Caruso, USMC Ret., business development director at BAE Systems, discusses the new electronic warfare capability for the F-35 Lightning II fighter by Lockheed Martin, and the retirement of his old unit and aircraft, Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 — VMAQ-2 — and the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian. The interview was conducted at the Air Force Association’s 2019 Air Warfare Symposium where our coverage was sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here in Orlando, Florida for the Air Force Association’s Annual Air Warfare Symposium, the number one winter gathering of U.S. Air Force leaders from around the world, as well as industry executives, thought leaders and media here in Florida. Our coverage here is sponsored by Leonardo DRS and L3 Technologies.
We’re here on the BAE Systems stand to talk to retired United States Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Todd Caruso, a former Prowler driver. Anybody who knows me knows I’m a big fan of electronic warfare and I think the Battle Hog is one of the coolest aircraft in history. It’s going to sundown next week, actually, down in Cherry Point. You worked the F-35 electronic warfare platform for the Lightning II.
Todd, first, it’s great to reconnect.
Second, congratulations on the big award on the new sort of EW capability for the F-35. The jet is such a critical part of what all the forces want to do, and the electromagnetic spectrum and electronic warfare is more important than ever.
Talk to us a little bit about what this upgrade does in terms of the capabilities of the jet.
Lt. Col. (Ret) Todd Caruso: Sure, thanks a lot.
The ASQ-239 EW countermeasure suite is the electronic warfare suite for the F-35 and it’s gone through some major upgrades over the years. The most recent one is an upgrade or a program we call DTIP. It’s an acronym within an acronym. Of course the D is DCRTG — Digital Channelized Receiver/Techniques Generator that goes into the system. The TIP part of DTIP is the Tuner Insertion Program. That makes up the acronym and the program that upgrades the airplane.
Some years ago, even when I was still in uniform in the Pentagon, we were talking about a DTIP upgrade to the jet. Essentially some diminishing resources and having to put a new componentry into the airplane. So DTIP really sets a foundation for the future modernization of the airplane.
We were able to replace and redesign some of the componentry in the racks within the system itself to allow it to take on more capability in the future. So as F-35 transitions now from a system design and development on into a modernization, the EW suite is positioned for that modernization of the future.
In Block 4 we’ll see a lot of new changes coming to the EW suite, a lot of new capabilities coming on board for the system itself, both in the EW side in the ESM and then the countermeasure side as well.
Mr. Muradian: One of the challenges, obviously, with the airplane is whether it’s the ALQ-99 or [ICAT-3] or whatever else, you’re looking at big pods, whereas all of this kind of capability, and it’s not like for light capability, but a lot of capability has to fit within the mold lines of the airplane.
Talk to us a little bit about the challenge you guys have to fit that kind of capability into what is a relatively small box that’s on the airplane.
Lt. Col. (Ret) Caruso: Again, part of the DTIP program is to make more space for more capability in the future. So it actually provides more space for componentry in the racks themselves, and it provides some Group A changes for more capabilities in other parts of the airplane to be added to it from an electronic warfare standpoint.
So if you need some capability on board that will bring a lot more processing power to the airplane, we have the space available now to put in higher processing cards and things like that for more capabilities in the future.
Mr. Muradian: And from a task management standpoint, you’ve got four people that’s on a Prowler, two people on a Growler which is the EF-18G. Are you guys doing anything special in terms of the user interface to be able to, because it is a true multi-mission jet in terms of being able to do counter-air, obviously optimized for ground, but also an EW mission set.
Lt. Col. (Ret) Caruso: The very unique thing about the F-35, fully integrated mission systems, right? All mission systems report to fusion. Fusion then decides what’s the best answer for the pilot and displays that to them. So we continue to report our information to fusion as we have in the past, and we’re very connected and collaborative with the APG-81, the radar for the jet as well.
So the EW capabilities on the airplane are fully integrated with all of the mission systems reporting to fusion and then fusion determines what the pilot sees and what’s displayed and how the airplane reacts to the electronic warfare environment around it.
Mr. Muradian: Is there, the airplane is in stealthy mode, obviously, with internal carriage and internal portage, but it does have hard points externally so it can actually carry a rather large — in the less stealthy mode. The Beast mode as Jeff [Babbione] used to say. Quite a lot of stuff can be hung off the airplane.
Is there any discussion, or are you guys thinking about sort of future fits that give the airplane kind of a more significant electronic warfare payload capability and power set that would allow it to do missions, because it’s a game-changing capability to be stealthy and yet have that capacity on the aircraft?
As you look at the road map for this, what are the different sorts of applications that the aircraft’s stealthy features allow — whether hanging external things on it, which you can still do in a relatively stealthy fashion — but growing that capability over time, I guess is my question.
Lt. Col. (Ret) Caruso: F-35, being as unique as it is, a stealth platform with robust mission capability on it, can sense the environment and can access battlespace that a lot of the traditional EW platforms can’t. The F-35 isn’t designed to be an electronic warfare or electronic attack platform. It’s a strike fighter aircraft. But it does sense the environment and has lots of good information from other parts of the battle space on it. So being able to share that information is really part of a road map for the future of F-35. Be able to send electronic warfare like information across the battlefield, share it with other F-35s, share it with other 4thGen fighters, and then of course when you come back, analyze that data and share it with the EW community at large as you go into reprogramming systems and things like that in the future.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you kind of a broader question. Electronic warfare was obviously something very important in the Cold War. Air Force had the EF-111s and a lot of EF coated airplanes. The Navy and the Marine Corps obviously, you had the EA-6A, then you had the EA-6B, the Prowler. And then it sort of winnowed down and it became much more of a Navy/Marine Corps expertise thing because of the community. There were some Air Force guys in the joint unit. I remember the big agreement when the F-111s went away and Air Force guys were going into that jet.
Talk to us a little bit about the renaissance of electronic warfare, and the enterprise-wide approach that folks are taking in terms of melding this capability, the Army’s working on capability, the Navy, across the force this is working. How does this element of it integrate into that platform? As Dog Davis used to say, former Deputy Commandant for Aviation for the Marine Corps, the Intrepid Tiger, sort of a distributed electronic warfare space as opposed to a whole bunch of dedicated electronic warfare.
Lt. Col. (Ret) Caruso: The F-35 becomes part of the system of systems of electronic warfare capability on the battlefield that’s out there. It has a very unique mission that it has to accomplish on its own, but again, as a capable system and a very robust electronic warfare suite aboard it, it can share data across the battlefield. So it’s another node in that system of systems. So getting them all connected, really important. It’s a joint asset, and each of the services will fight it and use it in a different manner. For instance the Navy will be very collaborative with its Super Hornet fleet and its Growler fleet. When next gen jammer comes on board for the Growlers there will be a whole ConOps behind how they employ an F-35 in conjunction with those other aircraft as well.
The same is true for the Marine Corps with MAGTF EW and how F-35 will be sort of a centerpiece for MAGTF EW in that system of systems with Intrepid Tiger and other things there. And then the Air Force has their whole suite of electronic warfare capabilities that will be collaborative in nature with an F-35 as well.
Mr. Muradian: And let me ask you about your reminiscences on the Prowler, one of the coolest looking airplanes. One of “the” all-time coolest airplanes ever. Let’s just be honest. It is. And I think it’s a gorgeous looking airplane, by the way. Anybody who tries to make fun of it I think is totally wrong and doesn’t know anything about airplanes. Talk to us about why the airplane was so cool, what you liked about it, what was unique about it, and what were some of the challenges of flying something that at first blush does not look like the sleekest, most aerodynamic thing, but could still go through the air at a pretty decent rate.
Lt. Col. (Ret) Caruso: The Prowler’s a great jet. Really sad to see it go and the Marine Corps will give it an appropriate sundown coming up here next week.
The jet itself, a very, very capable jet, designed way back in the Vietnam era for just exactly what it does, airborne electronic attack, which is a very important thing to have on the battlefield. We’ve realized that for many, many years.
The uniqueness about the Prowler and what I liked the best about it was its adaptability and flexibility. Designed to go after the traditional surface-to-air missiles and the early warning radars to protect those striker aircraft. As the enemy has done different things, our adversaries in our global commitment around the world to be able to control the electromagnetic spectrum has changed. The Prowler’s mission has also adapted as well. So we did very, very different missions in Afghanistan and Iraq utilizing that jet in many different ways. Not just the standard electronic warfare, take down the IADS type of a mission.
The Prowler’s adaptability to that, to bring on things like communications jamming and even do some PsyOps in some cases and do other types of electronic warfare commanding the spectrum with that jet was really unique to that platform.
Again, sorry to see it go, but we’re bringing on a lot of those capabilities that we have in the Prowler and spreading them through a system of systems in the future systems that we have. So it’s really neat.
Mr. Muradian: Todd, thanks very much for all your time. I appreciate it. Best of luck on the program and looking forward to talking to you again.
Lt. Col. (Ret) Caruso: Yes, sir. Thank you. Appreciate it.