28 August 2015
Funding began in FY09 for development of the US Navy's Next Generation Jammer (NGJ), intended to replace (or possibly upgrade) the Growler's AN/ALQ-99 pods near the end of the decade, and also provide the Marine Corps with a JSF-mounted EA system to replace its Prowlers. Unlike the short shrift given to the almost-new EA-18G ICAP-III systems, NGJ has been something of a holy grail for the EW industry, with four teams (BAE Systems, ITT/Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon) funded for early development.
However, in February 2011 the Navy added an NGJ Analysis of Alternatives (AoA), In-Process Review Defense Acquisition Board (IPR DAB), and Resources Requirements Review Board (R3B) to the development schedule, "to provide further program detail". These additions raised the spectre of major program changes or cancellation in future budgets. All RDT&E plans were shifted right, with a prototype demonstration delayed two years to 3QFY14, and EMD not planned until 1QFY15. The massive funding ramp-up allocated in the FY12 budget – up to $337.7 million in FY13 – became especially precarious and unlikely, at least with the initial schedule.
NGJ has continued to be delayed with funding slid right, despite a $279 million Technology Development (TD) contract awarded exclusively to Raytheon in 2013. The protest that followed delayed TD contract initiation by another 9 months in 2014. With new EA-18G Growlers still rolling off the production line with new ICAP-III EW suites, it will be very easy for the Navy to retain NGJ as merely a technology effort – for another decade or more.
Teal Group estimates at least a 60% chance that NGJ will continue in development without production for another decade, much like numerous past EW programs that long continued in RDT&E despite an urgent need (ATRJ/SIRFC, IEWCS/Prophet, ASPJ/IDECM, etc.). We believe the Marines will soldier on with its EA-6B Prowlers for at least a few years longer.
On the other hand, even with delays, NGJ is becoming that holy grail. Planned Navy funding in February 2015 grows to $1.1 billion in FY20 – for one year's combined RDT&E and procurement funding. We still don't expect production until next decade (IOC was planned for 2021 in mid-2015), but even with production delays, RDT&E funding is budgeted to grow to $720 million in FY19.
Total NGJ RDT&E funding is planned at $5 billion, and currently planned procurement is set at $5 billion. Delays might mean an annual $500 million in development funding, a pretty decent little grail.
The NGJ pod is planned to initially be installed on the Navy's EA-18G Growler, but Raytheon has declared it could also be installed on the Navy's UCLASS or another UAV, with relatively few changes required: "It is a very flexible design that does not require a lot of aircraft modifications – we kind of refer to it as smart pod."
There is still the possibility that NGJ will be significantly restructured or cancelled outright, however, with much less funding than in our forecast. We give this about a 30% chance. No one in the industry wants to hear this, but it has happened before (ATIRCM, B-52 Stand Off Jammer/Core Component Jammer), even without an economic meltdown that may force decision-makers to allocate much less funding to a system intended to replace another brand new system (ICAP-III) that has itself only recently reached fielding after delays. And Raytheon has just a mere $279 million TD contract, which it has just begun. $1.1 billion per year is still off in the future, and would make a tasty cut of sequestration meat.
On the positive side, without legacy ALQ-99s or ICAP-III in service on UAVs, the smaller, more capable NGJ could easily see service on a UAV before the EA-18G, and this will probably be the best argument for early production. Today's in-production ICAP-III systems could serve for at least another decade on Growlers before replacement.
Our forecasts are thus highly speculative. We have chosen to cut the Navy's planned $500-700 million per year in RDT&E down to a more affordable $200-300 million per year. We have also removed our production forecast. Production could be approved by the end of the decade, or the several hazards discussed above could keep NGJ as a development program. Alternately, some of our RDT&E funding could be shifted to buy EMD systems for UCLASS or a USMC SEAD UCAV – we believe it is likely that initial NGJ production will be for a UAV.