USAF receives its first 'Compass Call' e-warfare plane

The United States Air Force has just received the first of many C-37B "Compass Call" electronic warfare aircraft designed to replace its aging EC-130 fleet.
Christopher McFadden
The "Compass Call" is set to replace the USAF's aging fleet of EC-130s.


BAE Systems and L3Harris Technologies have officially delivered the first of its EC-37B "Compass Call" electronic warfare (EW) aircraft to the United States Air Force (USAF)  for formal combined developmental and operational testing. Designed to replace the USAF's venerable but aging EC-130s, the new aircraft has greater capabilities, range, and speed. The "Compass Call" will conduct various electronic warfare missions to jam enemy signals, including communications, radar, and navigation systems.

Passing the baton

Built around the Gulfstream G550 business jet, BAE is responsible for installing the aircraft's electronic attack components in Hudson, New Hampshire. L3Harris integrates mission-specific hardware into the jet at its facility in Waco, Texas. BAE announced plans to disrupt enemy air defenses by jamming communication between weapon systems and command-and-control networks.

“The delivery of the first EC-37B Compass Call is a major milestone for our customer’s electromagnetic attack capabilities,” said Dave Harrold, Vice President and General Manager of Countermeasure & Electromagnetic Attack, BAE Systems. “We take pride in delivering this critical EW capability to keep the US at the vanguard for defense and deterrence," he added.

“Our team accomplished the incredible challenge of migrating the Compass Call mission equipment from the much larger EC-130H and fully integrating it into the Gulfstream G550 platform,” said Jason Lambert, President of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, L3Harris. “As the Air Force sunsets its 40-year-old EC-130H fleet, the cutting-edge EC-37B will empower the customer to continue serving its vital electromagnetic warfare mission for generations to come," he added.

The EC-37B is a significant upgrade from its predecessor, with the current EC-130 having a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and can travel up to 300 miles per hour (483 kph). In contrast, the G550s can reach over 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and has nearly double the speed of the EC-130. This increased capability allows the EC-37B to target a wider range of enemy activities.

“There comes a point of every piece of equipment’s lifespan, we’ve squeezed every last drop of combat capability out of it,”  Commander Gen. Mark Kelly said at the Air and Space Force Association’s Air Space and Cyber conference.

According to Kelly, Defense News reports, the main goal of testing the EC-37B is ensuring its mission systems are integrated correctly. The Gulfstream airframe used for this aircraft is known to be reliable, so the focus will primarily be on ensuring that the new "Compass Call" systems communicate with each other at the appropriate time. The jamming capabilities will also be examined to ensure they work properly and do not put undue strain on the plane's environmental systems.

“When we dial up the jamming power, or ask for a specific waveform, that waveform needs to come out in exactly the amount of ramp and power and frequency we asked for,” Kelly said. Kelly also added that the Air Force's upcoming drone wingmen (called the collaborative combat aircraft, or CCA for short) are designed for collaborative combat, and some equipped for electronic warfare, are not a potential replacement for the "Compass Call."

Play together nicely

He stated that the CCAs would work alongside the "Compass Call" fleet and the EW capabilities of the F-35 and F-15EX. He did caution that it is essential for the Air Force to ensure that these platforms do not interfere with each other while operating in the same airspace.

“It’s all got to merge together, and they have to operate — and oh, by the way, [let’s] be sure they don’t [commit] electronic fratricide on each other,” Kelly said.

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