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U.S. Navy Looks to Add Droppable Drone to EA-18G Growler

The Northrop Grumman/VX Aerospace Dash X unmanned aerial vehicle inside its canister

Defense

U.S. Navy Looks to Add Droppable Drone to EA-18G Growler

The U.S. Navy is upgrading its EA-18G Growler jamming aircraft to use modified cluster bomb canisters and deploy and control their own drone swarm. This involves collecting signals intelligence data and also launching broader electronic attacks. This disposable unmanned aircraft, referred to both as Dash X and Remedy could be carried by any fighter jet or bomber and will be able to take on covert surveillance and even strike duties in the future.

Launching mechanism and enhanced capabilities

These two aircraft could be used as a manned-unmanned team. 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 has a wingspan of 12 feet, a top speed of 70 miles per hour, and can fly for approximately 10 hours.

The Dash X drone will be stuffed in a bomb-like capsule designed to hang off the hard points of an EA-18G Growler. 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, radar stations or communications facilities.

The Dash X will feed information back to the controlling aircraft to assist the crew in locating and prioritizing its targets giving better sense of the overall electronic order in the battlefield environment. Depending on the equipment that can fit inside a single Dash X, it might be able to act as a decoy, generating signals that make it look like a larger threat to air defense systems, or even conduct their own distributed electronic or cyber attacks, if needed.

Using a modified cluster munition would make it relatively easy to load the system onto an existing aircraft such as the EA-18G. A single aircraft would be able to carry more than one Dash X at a time, deploying swarms of unmanned aircraft that would better monitor a certain zone for threats or conduct faster searches for specific points of interest across a broader area.

Limitations

The drone’s small size and slow speed mean it has reduced radar and acoustic signatures that make it hard for opponents to spot on radar and difficult to quickly identify as a military drone. Even if caught on the enemy radar screens, the Dash X is highly likely to be dismissed as something slow and non-threatening entirely.

All this at a very reasonable cost especially compared to more advanced manned and unmanned stealth aircraft, something Northrop Grumman already has significant experience with. Regardless of the Dash X’s potential to accurately slip by enemy radars unnoticed, many countries, the United States included, are becoming increasingly more aware of the threat of small drones.

Conclusion

Still, as a disposable system, Dash X could be relatively low cost in its final form. Even if they detect the drone swarm, an enemy force might find themselves overwhelmed and unable to shoot down some or all of the unmanned aircraft before they can grab any important imagery or other intelligence information. No concrete news yet on whether the U.S. Navy or any other service will decide to turn the experiment into a fully fledged acquisition effort. The results of the Dash X tests could end up as part of that growing corpus of basic research data to support future developments.

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