The EC-37B Compass Call electronic warfare (EW) aircraft is being developed to provide improved electronic attack capabilities for the US Air Force (USAF) based on the Gulfstream G550 commercial business jet.
The new platform is based on the Gulfstream G550 Conformal Airborne Early Warning Aircraft (CAEW) airframe, which is a derivative of the G550 business jet. It is equipped with the existing Compass Call EW system installed on the ageing Lockheed Martin-built EC-130H Compass Call electronic attack aircraft.
The EC-37B Compass Call aircraft is expected to provide enhanced stand-off jamming capability for the USAF compared to the existing EC-130H Compass Call, which has been operational with the USAF since 1982.
The USAF plans to acquire ten EC-37B Compass Call aircraft to replace the 14 EC-130H fleet. The first two EC-37B aircraft are expected to achieve the initial operational capability by 2023.
The EC-37B Compass Call aircraft will be delivered to the 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG) located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. The 55th ECG will be the Compass Call aircraft’s sole operator for contingency operations globally.
EC-37B Compass Call EW aircraft development
The USAF announced its proposal to retire the existing fleet of EC-130H Compass Call aircraft from its service in 2014. The National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) for 2016 fiscal directed the USAF for a report on recapitalisation of EC-130H Compass Call fleet to address future threats, either through a replacement programme or by installing Compass Call capabilities onto an existing platform.
The USAF issued a request for information to aircraft manufacturers for their ability to provide commercial derivative aircraft integrated with the Compass Call system in October 2015.
In early 2016, the USAF concluded that the future EW capability could be addressed by moving the existing Compass Call mission system onto a commercial derivative aircraft, based on the responses submitted by Boeing, Bombardier, and Gulfstream Aerospace.
The USAF issued a classified justification and approval to award the sole-source contract for the Compass Call re-host to L3Harris Technologies (L3Harris), previously known as L3 Communications, in August 2016. It unveiled plans for the EC-X Compass Call replacement aircraft, under the Compass Call Cross Deck programme, in 2017.
L3Harris was awarded a contract by the USAF in April 2017 to serve as the prime contractor for the integration of Compass Call EW technology into the Gulfstream G550 CAEW airframe. Gulfstream Aerospace was preferred to supply Gulfstream G550 CAEW airframes in September 2017.
BAE Systems is responsible for the development, procurement, production, and integration of electronics and mission equipment for the EC-37B Compass Call EW aircraft fleet.
The initial design review of the Compass Call weapon system was completed in 2017 and the work to transition Compass Call EW technology from EC-130H aircraft to the modern platform began in July 2018.
L3Harris announced the completion of the first flight of the Compass Call aircraft in October 2021. BAE Systems in partnership with the USAF successfully flight tested the Small Adaptive Bank of Electronic Resources (SABER) technology for the EC-37B Compass Call in April 2021. The tests were conducted at the Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.
Design, features, and avionics of EC-37B Compass Call EW aircraft
The design provides the flexibility to support the addition of new capabilities in future to meet the changing mission requirements. The EC-37B aircraft has a length of 29m and a wingspan of 28m. It is powered by two Rolls-Royce BR710 C4-11 engines. The aircraft’s weight and operating costs are reduced by 50% each, compared to the EC-130H Compass Call.
It is integrated with the modern Compass Call airborne tactical weapon system, which delivers high-mission effectiveness while ensuring survivability of the pilots and operators.
Avionics aboard the new platform include an advanced flight deck, modern electronics and communications suite, jamming equipment, data link, tactical radios, as well as transmitting and receiving antennas.
EC-37B Compass Call mission capabilities
The new EC-37B EW platform will be used to disrupt enemy command and control communications and suppress air defence networks of enemy forces. It will also be used to attack enemy early warning and acquisition radar threats and perform counter-information operations.
The new EW aircraft will have the ability to operate at high altitudes with increased speeds and execute missions at long ranges. It will also be able to perform missions in anti-access, area-denial, and irregular warfare conditions.
The aircraft will provide modern digital signal processing capabilities, which will prove useful during advanced missions.
SABER technology The SABER technology switches the earlier hardware-based EW system into a software-based electromagnetic spectrum warfare capability for the EC-37B Compass Call. It comprises a number of software defined radios. The system features an open architecture and supports the EC-37B aircraft’s operating system.
SABER will allow future upgrades without the need for any major reconfiguration of the systems.