The Navy’s Next Jet May Have Its Own Drone
The U.S. Navy’s EA-18G Growler electronic attack plane may get its own pet drone in a future update, FlightGlobal is reporting. The Dash X drone could be deployed by Growler aircrews over hostile airspace, collecting electromagnetic signals and sending them to the waiting jet for analysis. The Growler/drone dynamic duo would be used to identify, locate, and take down enemy air defenses.
The project, funded by the Office of Naval Research, involves stuffing a Dash X drone in a bomb-like capsule designed to hang off the hardpoints of a EA-18G Growler. The Growler is the Navy’s new electronic attack platform, meant to jam enemy communications and air defense radar signals and attack air defense radars. The Dash X drone would be ejected in midair from the capsule, slowed by a parachute drag, and then set off to locate hostile emitters, whether they be radar stations or communications facilities.
Once the drone has located its target, it can then identify the signals being emitted, geolocate the emitter, and send the collected data upstream to the Growler. The drone in essence acts like a mini-Growler, without weapons, that does its job while the aircraft pilot and electronic warfare officer concentrate on other tasks. Dash X can then stream its data to the Growler, allowing it to take action—including launching a AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Radar Guided Missile to destroy a radar-emitting target.
Dash X’s small size (it has a wingspan of just 12 feet) and slow 60 mile an hour speed makes it sound like a sitting duck in the air, but this should help it survive in a hostile environment. Modern military and civilian radars are designed to screen out slower flying objects such as flights of birds or weather phenomena, a “feature” that just might keep Dash X off enemy radars. According to Northrop Grumman, which designed the integration of the VX Aerospace Dash X drone into the Growler, the drone could be launched by almost any combat aircraft—even a B-52 bomber.
One intriguing possibility: Since there appears to be no way to recover the drone for reuse, why not turn it into a kamikaze platform? The drone could discover targets, allow the Growler crew to cross-check its data and “sign off” on the work, and then spend the rest of its short life as a missile.