Possible explanation for radar jamming in the Nimitz encounter

ParityCheck

New Member
Hello everyone, my first post here :)

I was listening Cmdr. Fravor's interview on the Lex Fridman podcast yesterday. The part about radar jamming caught my interest - he says that Underwood gets a radar return from the object, but when he tried to lock it up on radar, the object actively jammed him.

Now, I had seen a video some time back (from DCS) where a F/A-18 can "automatically" jam a radar lock : Source: https://youtu.be/rDFY71g-2rw?t=262

It talks about the Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ), which when in XMIT mode actively jams radar locks without pilot intervention.
I did find a link talking about the ASPJ ( https://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/equip/an-alq-165.htm written in 1999) in order to confirm if this tech was available prior to 2004.

Considering this, my hypothesis is that Fravor was indeed right, the object actively jammed Underwood's radar because it was likely an "enemy" F/A-18 that was taking part in the force-on-force exercise. Underwood took off immediately as Fravor landed and probably found the "enemy" aircraft. He locked up the aircraft and it immediately jammed the lock.

It also explains why the aircraft did not show up on his IFF / data-link as they were participating as enemy forces and likely had their ASPJ set to XMIT for the training.

Mick is right too, it's a F/A-18 as we see on the FLIR with the 99.9 range value (which is possibly an artefact of jamming).

Things to confirm:
  • Does this system behave the same way in real-life as DCS portrays it?
  • During training exercises, is there a way to disable IFF / datalink for the opposing force?

Sources:
Favor talking about Radar jamming: Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aB8zcAttP1E&t=5434s
 
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jackfrostvc

Active Member
Douglas Kurth's F/A-18C I'd guess

And I'd guess after he flew around the disturbance and flew away, that his holding point he said he flew to, was the CAP point
 

ParityCheck

New Member
Douglas Kurth's F/A-18C I'd guess

And I'd guess after he flew around the disturbance and flew away, that his holding point he said he flew to, was the CAP point
Yes, most likely one of the marine F/A-18's or any opposing force aircraft with a suitable jammer.


A few points about the FLIR footage:

Cmdr. Fravor does mention in the interview that he saw appendages in the original high quality flir footage, but not when he saw the tic tac visually. I've also read somewhere that these appendages were "L" shaped. I'm wondering if there were just missiles on the wingtip / pylons ( they did carry captive training missiles). They might look an flipped "L" shaped from a certain bank angle. It looks like the aircraft was turning to the left.

I also don't see any any "instantaneous acceleration" from hover as some say. The object was definitely not hovering, thought the IR footage might give that impression. Underwood could not determine the velocity of the object due to radar jamming.


The main thing going against this explanation is Underwood's experience - he's likely seen a lot of airplanes in TV / IR and he says he's never seen anything like this before.
 

jackfrostvc

Active Member
If only the female pilot in Underwoods jet would come forward with her testimony

Same with Fravors WSO, pity he has a high up role in the NAVY and is unlikely to come forward
 

ParityCheck

New Member
Another hypothesis on how this may have played out:
  • Favor tells Underwood to be on the lookout for this tic tac.
  • Underwood takes off, is directed towards the object by Princeton
  • Underwood knows he's flying in friendly airspace, where every friendly aircraft would be on datalink.
    • But the marine FA-18s (one of) is not on datalink.
    • This could be because of incorrect IFF settings on Underwood's part or the Marine's part. I think the latter.
  • Underwood while heading in the direction of the object sees an unidentified contact. Tries to lock it up, and is jammed immediately. Turns to FLIR / TV to observe.
  • The marine F/A-18 is puzzled as to why they are being locked when the exercise is cancelled, check with HQ to see if the exercise is still on. They begin turning.
  • Underwood is trying to look at the object via FLIR/ TV, as the marine FA-18 turns the optical lock struggles to stay locked onto the target in the narrow FOV. Loses lock.
  • Marine F/A-18 realises its on the wrong IFF, switches to the correct codes.
  • Underwood turns around to find the unidentified radar contact, but he can find nothing (except maybe a friendly FA-18 at a distance)
This makes a lot of assumptions, feel free to shoot it down :D

This would become clear if someone can examine the flight paths taken by aircraft that day.
 

MclachlanM

Active Member
Things to confirm:
  • Does this system behave the same way in real-life as DCS portrays it?
  • During training exercises, is there a way to disable IFF / datalink for the opposing force?

DCS has a few inaccuracies due to the secret nature of fighter jets and there are some things that flight sims aren't able to do but it is accurate enough for what we're doing.

The IFF and D/L need to be powered on manually and can be set by the pilot.

1624984860565.png
 

MclachlanM

Active Member
Another hypothesis on how this may have played out:
  • Favor tells Underwood to be on the lookout for this tic tac.
  • Underwood takes off, is directed towards the object by Princeton
  • Underwood knows he's flying in friendly airspace, where every friendly aircraft would be on datalink.
    • But the marine FA-18s (one of) is not on datalink.
    • This could be because of incorrect IFF settings on Underwood's part or the Marine's part. I think the latter.
  • Underwood while heading in the direction of the object sees an unidentified contact. Tries to lock it up, and is jammed immediately. Turns to FLIR / TV to observe.
  • The marine F/A-18 is puzzled as to why they are being locked when the exercise is cancelled, check with HQ to see if the exercise is still on. They begin turning.
  • Underwood is trying to look at the object via FLIR/ TV, as the marine FA-18 turns the optical lock struggles to stay locked onto the target in the narrow FOV. Loses lock.
  • Marine F/A-18 realises its on the wrong IFF, switches to the correct codes.
  • Underwood turns around to find the unidentified radar contact, but he can find nothing (except maybe a friendly FA-18 at a distance)
This makes a lot of assumptions, feel free to shoot it down :D

This would become clear if someone can examine the flight paths taken by aircraft that day.

I like this but there are a few issues;
When Fravor talks about the 'green box' I think he means the RADAR contact bricks you see here:
1624987579054.png


If the target is jamming then once it is locked up it is put in a yellow triangle and moves to the 'dugout' (green rectangle at the top) to signify AOT (angle only track).

20210622211424_1.jpg20210622211442_1.jpg

The above example shows an F18 intercepting Russian fighters actively jamming at 35nmi, the number in the triangle on the RWR indicates what type of jet it is (I have no idea how it figures that out, the targets shown are not on datalink).

Here are a list of actively jamming targets it could identify:
1624987637428.png


@Wonderer has made this neat table here: https://www.metabunk.org/threads/2004-uss-nimitz-tic-tac-ufo-flir-footage-flir1.9190/post-243255
1624986990007.png
Which means if we're looking at a jamming F-18 (17m long so about 20nmi away) then even though there would be no range info, it would be well within the range of ID and both planes would be well aware of each other.
 

ParityCheck

New Member
Correct me if I'm wrong here, but wouldn't the enemy jet show up on your RWR if that jet is trying to lock you up?

I'm assuming the Marine F-18 is heading in the same direction as (and in front of) Underwood, before it starts to turn. If Underwood locks it up, the RWR on the Marine Jet would show that it's being locked by another F-18.

I can't make out the heading of the fighters in the map that you've posted. Are the fighters facing each other?

Edit: I see what you mean, the enemy fighter can't lock you up if they're actively jamming.
 
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MclachlanM

Active Member
Correct me if I'm wrong here, but wouldn't the enemy jet show up on your RWR if that jet is trying to lock you up?

I'm assuming the Marine F-18 is heading in the same direction as (and in front of) Underwood, before it starts to turn. If Underwood locks it up, the RWR on the Marine Jet would show that it's being locked by another F-18.

I can't make out the heading of the fighters in the map that you've posted. Are the fighters facing each other?

Edit: I see what you mean, the enemy fighter can't lock you up if they're actively jamming.
If I'm honest RADAR may as well be black magic to me so I might not be the best person to answer this. My understanding is that if it has a RADAR on it is referred to as 'nails' and displayed on the non-lethal band with a beep, if it has a RADAR lock on you then it is a 'spike' and shown on the lethal band with a repeating beep, then missiles in the critical band with a faster beep. You can see in my pic that there are a whole load of nails that are friendly and wouldn't be locked on.

1624990845842.png
In my example from DCS the planes are flying towards each other. I'll have time later to play with it and see if you would get the same thing if the planes are flying roughly in the same direction.
 

ParityCheck

New Member
Fravor talks about Underwood's left / right display setup here, and it doesn't look like he had the EW / RWR page up. However, Underwood's aircraft is a dual seater, and I believe DCS simulates a single seater hornet, so I can't be certain whether the Underwood's pilot also did not have the RWR page up.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aB8zcAttP1E&t=5465s


Can you also try with the same setup as Underwood and see if it gives you any indication of the type of aircraft?
 
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MclachlanM

Active Member
Fravor talks about Underwood's left / right display setup here, and it doesn't look like he had the EW / RWR page up. However, Underwood's aircraft is a dual seater, and I believe DCS simulates a single seater hornet, so I can't be certain whether the Underwood's pilot also did not have the RWR page up.

Can you also try with the same setup as Underwood and see if it gives you any indication of the type of aircraft?

There are a few configurations of the backseat so I'm not sure what Underwood would have been seeing. It seems like most have more than 2 DDIs and a dedicated small RWR though, so seems likely that if it showed as an F18 somewhere, Underwood would have seen it.
FA-18D_Backseat_LI (2).jpg


Ran an experiment in DCS getting a RADAR lock on an F-18 from behind with the display's that Fravor describes. I've added the RWR on the AMPCD for reference.

Other plane going away (notice the target is not showing on the RWR or attempting to jam):
20210629232423_1.jpg20210629232712_1.jpg

Other plane coming towards (notice the target is showing on the RWR and is attempting to jam):
20210629235014_1.jpg20210629235106_1.jpg

However I couldn't get the other plane to both jam and not appear on the RWR.
This forum seems to imply that the F18 will only use the XMIT ECM if it is facing the other plane: https://forums.eagle.ru/topic/260127-f-18-ecm-jammer-questions/

There are some dedicated electronic warfare aircraft that have ECM pylons that sound like they could achieve the effect we are looking for;
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/ALQ-99
EA-6B_Prowlers_supporting_Southern_Watch_from_CVN-73_LI.jpg
However I have no idea how likely you would be to come across these.
 

Domzh

Active Member
Douglas Kurth's F/A-18C I'd guess

And I'd guess after he flew around the disturbance and flew away, that his holding point he said he flew to, was the CAP point
no douglas was back on the nimitz during underwoods flight

however the red devils all were "red team"
 

LilWabbit

Active Member
There are some dedicated electronic warfare aircraft that have ECM pylons that sound like they could achieve the effect we are looking for;
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/ALQ-99
EA-6B_Prowlers_supporting_Southern_Watch_from_CVN-73_LI.jpg
However I have no idea how likely you would be to come across these.

In the Navy, the ALQ-99 jamming system has been mounted on the EA-6B Prowler (the one in your picture, retired from service in 2015) and the EA-18G Growler (entered operational service in 2009), the latter essentially a Super Hornet adapted for electronic warfare. The former was a Grumman product and the latter a Boeing (originally of course McDonnel Douglas). Both were designed for carrier-based and advanced base operations.

In 2001 (three years before the Nimitz encounter) there were 124 Prowlers in service, most of them with the Navy. Modified Prowlers with the new ICAP III radar jamming and deception systems took their first flight in the same year. ICAP III, alone, was a USD 200 million development programme. (Can't help but compare to the AATIP's 22 million USD.)

The likelihood that Prowlers' ICAP III radar jamming and deception capabilities have not been used in Navy exercises on other Navy aircraft is nil.

Obviously this does not imply Fravor necessarily witnessed ICAP III interference.

https://news.northropgrumman.com/ne...t-generation-ea-6b-prowler-makes-first-flight

Current Prowlers jam radar by transmitting electronic signals over broad frequency ranges to "blind" adversary radars operating within each range. ICAP III takes that energy and focuses it on the specific frequency of the threat radar. Significantly, sophisticated software in ICAP III enables the system to change the jamming frequency as quickly as modern radars change theirs to avoid jamming.

Other ICAP III improvements include an integrated communications jamming system, a provision for the Navy's Link 16 data link, and new displays and controls. Plans call for the system to be installed in current fleet EA-6B Prowlers. Initial operational capability for the fleet is slated for 2005.

ICAP III capability also forms the baseline for the Department of Defense's (DoD) follow-on airborne electronic attack system of systems. A DoD panel is conducting an Analysis of Alternatives to follow-on candidate systems. The follow-on system will augment and eventually replace EA-6B's in the DoD inventory by 2015.
 

ParityCheck

New Member
However I couldn't get the other plane to both jam and not appear on the RWR.
This forum seems to imply that the F18 will only use the XMIT ECM if it is facing the other plane: https://forums.eagle.ru/topic/260127-f-18-ecm-jammer-questions/

There are some dedicated electronic warfare aircraft that have ECM pylons that sound like they could achieve the effect we are looking for;
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/ALQ-99
EA-6B_Prowlers_supporting_Southern_Watch_from_CVN-73_LI.jpg
However I have no idea how likely you would be to come across these.

That's interesting, this means that the marine F-18 has Underwood's aircraft in its radar cone in order to jam it using XMIT ECM.

Do we have any evidence if what we see in the FLIR is actually moving towards Underwood's aircraft?

If the aircraft is moving away / doesn't have Underwood's aircraft in its radar, the F-18 XMIT ECM hypothesis doesn't work.

Dedicated ECM pods seem unlikely.
 
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ParityCheck

New Member
Was watching Source: https://youtu.be/xPXFcFyZma0?t=267


Some notes:

Flying in friendly airspace, not expecting electronic warfare.


He does say he's close enough to the object - Is he still getting an accurate distance to target while the radar is jammed?

He was expecting to track the tic tac on radar to record its movements. When he get unexpectedly jammed, he switches to FLIR , sees a tic tac and spends 90% of his effort trying to get as much visual info as he can.

Did he miss to check the RWR? Seems unlikely as that reflex is probably ingrained within them, but I can't rule it out.

Also, would the RWR be part of the tapes that Fravor mentions (even though he didn't have that page on screen)? could help rule out this hypothesis.
 

ParityCheck

New Member
There are a few configurations of the backseat so I'm not sure what Underwood would have been seeing. It seems like most have more than 2 DDIs and a dedicated small RWR though, so seems likely that if it showed as an F18 somewhere, Underwood would have seen it.
I guess it depends on the configuration. I did search for F-18 cockpits and could see some (pilot) cockpits without a dedicated RWR panel. Trying to find a WSO cockpit with an RWR.
 
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ParityCheck

New Member
I guess it depends on the configuration. I did search for F-18 cockpits and could see some (pilot) cockpits without a dedicated RWR panel. Trying to find a WSO cockpit with an RWR.
I did find one for the Legacy Hornets - they do have a RWR for the WSO.





But all the SuperHornet / Rhino WSO cockpit photos that I could find (mostly actual simulators), do not have a dedicated RWR.

JT3A0952.jpg

Another one (WSO): https://live.staticflickr.com/3144/2651010989_4dcc193653_k.jpg
(Pilot): https://www.researchgate.net/profil...E-F-Super-Hornet-CBoeing-images-reprinted.png

Another article from 2001 talks about:
Was the RWR phased out in super hornets due to redundancy?
This thread seems to hint that: https://webcache.googleusercontent....pic.php?f=7&t=7694+&cd=12&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=in


Sources:
Quoted article (2001): http://www.ausairpower.net/SuperBug.html
WSO cockpit photos (2014): https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/201...s-the-navys-fa-18-sim-into-the-danger-zone/2/
Cockpit photo (2016): https://www.researchgate.net/figure...ornet-CBoeing-images-reprinted_fig1_311456744
 
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MclachlanM

Active Member
If the aircraft is moving away / doesn't have Underwood's aircraft in its radar, the F-18 XMIT ECM hypothesis doesn't work.

Dedicated ECM pods seem unlikely.
I agree, also the fact that the F18s RADAR is unable to burn through the ECM means a fairly small fighter at about 20nmi is unlikely.

Did he miss to check the RWR? Seems unlikely as that reflex is probably ingrained within them, but I can't rule it out.

Also, would the RWR be part of the tapes that Fravor mentions (even though he didn't have that page on screen)? could help rule out this hypothesis.
The RWR would be making noise and you're guaranteed that one of them would have seen it (RWR contacts also display on the HUD). I'm not sure if Underwood was the pilot or the WSO, the text on that video says WSO but he talks as if he were the pilot and Corbell says "You were the pilot" at around 15:43.

A lot of the things Underwood say in that interview seem to be contradictory or just wrong, e.g:

1. "The RADAR was showing strobe lines", this is indicative of noise/concealment jamming (not the XMIT from a F18).
https://www.radartutorial.eu/16.eccm/ja09.en.html
1625062435540.png

2. What we see in the video is 99.9RNG which is indicative of deception jamming. This would show the target in the dugout with a 'J' next to the HAFU where the target's speed is usually displayed.
Source: https://youtu.be/rDFY71g-2rw?t=318


3. He then describes what the target's speed was doing:
It was jumping all over the place, it was like .8, .4, .2, .1, .9 and it's just like my RADAR can't hack it and in all instances it should be able to.
And says that it was 'close enough' which implies he had some indication of the range.

4. The whole 'act of war' thing also seems like it's been made up at some point.
https://www.law.cornell.edu/definit...src=title:18:part:I:chapter:113B:section:2331
1625063236384.png


If we go by Underwood's testimony we are looking for an object that masks it's position using concealment jamming, also it doesn't mask it's position but actively gives an incorrect position with deception jamming which the RADAR detects so doesn't display the speed, range or altitude, also the RADAR does display the speed, range and altitude and it jumps all over the place and is close enough for Underwood to rule out a plane.
 

ParityCheck

New Member
The RWR would be making noise and you're guaranteed that one of them would have seen it (RWR contacts also display on the HUD). I'm not sure if Underwood was the pilot or the WSO, the text on that video says WSO but he talks as if he were the pilot and Corbell says "You were the pilot" at around 15:43.
Underwood was the WSO.

1. "The RADAR was showing strobe lines", this is indicative of noise/concealment jamming (not the XMIT from a F18).
Fravor also talks about strobe lines as well. So, that would mean noise jamming, which the ASPJ is a deception jammer which paints false targets / incorrect info. And whatever this is, has the characteristics of both.
 

jackfrostvc

Active Member
I'm not sure if Douglas Kurth was going to be in the air to air exercise NAVY vs Marines
Would it be fair to pit a single seat F/A =18C against a heavier two seater F/A-18 ?
I honestly don't know the answer to that, maybe someone does


I suppose in combat you are pitted against different adversaries, so in that way , yes it makes sense
 

ParityCheck

New Member
It's looking less likely as a F/A-18 at this point.


I was reading the (supposed) Nov 2004 event summary document : http://www.nicap.org/reports2/2004_Navy event document 2004 Nov 14.pdf

If I go by these names, the squadrons involved in this exercise were:

The document says EA-6B prowlers from Black Ravens were in the area during Event 3, when the tic tac was spotted. It doesn't say if they were on the opposing force (RED).

 

MclachlanM

Active Member
Fravor - he's talking about Chad in the backseat.

Very strange, I agree that this is what Fravor is saying, he makes Chad's role explicitly clear in the Rogan interview:
"The back-seater, Chad, says - he's really determined he's going to find this thing - so he tells the pilot "hey we're going to find this thing".
Source: https://youtu.be/Eco2s3-0zsQ?t=846


I know picking out little inconsistencies between Fravor and Underwood is quite easy but this seems like a huge discrepancy if Underwood is trying to sell himself as a pilot and Fravor/Corbell say he is a WSO.

From his interview with Intelligencer:
1625081149493.png
1625081255514.png

Also when Corbell asked him his role in their interview, he doesn't explicitly say pilot or WSO and doesn't correct Corbell when he calls him a pilot later on:
Corbell - "You were the pilot, and you are telling me that the debunkers are wrong?"
Underwood - "Yes."
Source: https://youtu.be/xPXFcFyZma0?t=944
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Also when Corbell asked him his role in their interview, he doesn't explicitly say pilot or WSO and doesn't correct Corbell when he calls him a pilot later on:
I don't think it's a huge point really. You can be qualified to be a pilot and still be a WSO. It's not really a big distinction for most people who would just think of the F/A-18 as having two pilots.
 

MclachlanM

Active Member
I don't think it's a huge point really. You can be qualified to be a pilot and still be a WSO. It's not really a big distinction for most people who would just think of the F/A-18 as having two pilots.
If Underwood said "I was a pilot in his squadron" and meant that he was a WSO in the squadron who just happened to have a private pilot certificate then I would say that's deliberately misleadng at best, sure it is all the same to the reporter but Chad would know full well that he wasn't a pilot. As far as I'm aware you can't be a WSO and pilot for the navy at the same time.

You're probably right though that it doesn't have all that much to do with things, it's certainly well off topic.
 

jackfrostvc

Active Member
It's looking less likely as a F/A-18 at this point.


I was reading the (supposed) Nov 2004 event summary document : http://www.nicap.org/reports2/2004_Navy event document 2004 Nov 14.pdf

If I go by these names, the squadrons involved in this exercise were:

The document says EA-6B prowlers from Black Ravens were in the area during Event 3, when the tic tac was spotted. It doesn't say if they were on the opposing force (RED).



How does any of your post make it less likely it was an F/A-18?

And by that , what are you referring to specifically, the object Chad filmed, or the what Fravor saw?

btw, MISR-1E is a missile test range


1625103015504.png
 

Greene

New Member
Would it be fair to pit a single seat F/A =18C against a heavier two seater F/A-18 ?
I honestly don't know the answer to that, maybe someone does


I suppose in combat you are pitted against different adversaries, so in that way , yes it makes sense
Fair in what way?

They have broadly similar flight characteristics. The Hornet will accelerate and turn a little better while the Rhino will have an advantage at long range (better radar etc).
 

ParityCheck

New Member
How does any of your post make it less likely it was an F/A-18?

And by that , what are you referring to specifically, the object Chad filmed, or the what Fravor saw?

The nature of whats been reported on jamming makes it look less likely as an F-18. There are indications of noise jamming (ASPJ is a deception jammer) and based on what folks have calculated as the estimated distance to the object, the F-18 radar would have "burned through" the jamming and got a positive lock.

And by that , what are you referring to specifically, the object Chad filmed, or the what Fravor saw?
We're only talking about what Chad reportedly saw on the radar. What Fravor saw is likely not what Chad filmed.
  • Fravor said he was unable to register the object on radar, Chad was able to see the object on the radar and lock on to it.
  • Fravor says that he didn't see any appendages when he had a visual of the tic tac (he says he got to within half a mile of it). He does mention seeing L-shaped appendages in the high quality FLIR footage (tape) shot by Chad. Unfortunately, what we have is a low resolution video which just shows a bulbous object in TV mode.
 
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jackfrostvc

Active Member
I'm not sure, I've been following this story rather recently. He / Fravor do talk about radar jamming in the above videos.

Do you have a link to any article / video where he does say so?

Chad seemingly (name blacked out) said there was no jamming cues in the AATIP report
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/E5QJP8KXoAIPN59?format=jpg&name=4096x4096

Yet, in Corbell's latest video , he says there was jamming cues
Source: https://twitter.com/JeremyCorbell/status/1410406819869069320
 
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