Electronic Warfare Working Group

By Congressman Joe Pitts

The history of warfare is often described as a struggle between the offense and the defense for ascendancy in the battlespace.  That’s a fine framework if you like football, but it does not suffice when we think about warfare in the information age.  Today, the real military struggle today is between awareness and deception: each side in a conflict strives to learn as much as possible about an adversary’s location, leaders, capabilities, strategy and tactics, while at the same time denying the enemy such information about friendly forces.

The effort to gain superior awareness or “knowledge dominance” in the battlespace is as old as warfare itself.  But in an era of multispectral sensors, instantaneous communications, and precision munitions, it is not enough to know the enemy.  It is equally important that the enemy not know you.  Those twin imperatives of modern warfare are, in a nutshell, the rationale for the burgeoning mission area of “information operations.”

Although much of the technology and terminology associated with information operations is of recent origin, the U.S. military has been engaged in at least one form of information warfare for over half a century.  Ever since the advent of radar in the late 1930s, U.S. airborne forces have played a cat-and-mouse game of countermeasures and counter-countermeasures with enemy sensors that has come to be known as electronic warfare (EW).  For a variety of bureaucratic and doctrinal reasons, the armed services today prefer to differentiate electronic and information warfare.  But from a purely practical perspective, it is obvious that EW has always been about controlling the electromagnetic spectrum in wartime so that we can know the enemy better than he knows us.

When Italian air-power theorist Guilio Douhet wrote in his influential treatise, The Command of the Air, in 1921, a prime reason why he believed that offensive aircraft would revolutionize warfare was the impossibility of surveilling all the possible routes by which they might approach intended targets.  The invention of radar on the eve of World War II, however, deprived air power of its most critical advantage - - surprise. Since that time, it has been apparent to military planners that the success of air campaigns depends upon suppressing enemy defensive sensors while exploiting similar technology (as in precision seekers) for offensive purposes. 

In the early years, foiling enemy defenses involved simple techniques such as flying below radar horizons or filling the sky with a blizzard of reflective chaff.  But during the Cold War, electronic warfare became an increasingly complex task of lethal and nonlethal defense suppression employing highly sophisticated skills and equipment.

The primary reason why EW has become more complicated is because defenders have learned how to adapt to various EW strategies.  Radars have become more powerful, more discriminating, and more agile.  Command and control networks have become more resilient and responsive.  Surface-to-air missiles have become smarter and more numerous.  Improvements in aircraft radars and radar-guided air-to-air missiles allow for longer-range engagements of multiple aircraft and have pushed the aerial engagement arena well beyond visual range (BVR).  Vastly improved Infrared (IR) guided missiles are now capable of head-on, high-angle, off-boresight engagements that give the target no indication of engagements until the pilot actually sees the missile or it blows up next to the aircraft.

Each time America has fought an air campaign - - in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and most recently the former Yugoslavia   - - adversaries learned new ways of coping with American EW methods, forcing the Pentagon to come up with more clever electronic countermeasures.  As a result, it is essential that the Pentagon provide for a multi-layered EW strategy to maintain U.S. military superiority.  From this perspective, electromagnetic dominance relies on the effective use of low observables (stealth), suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), support jamming, and aircraft self-protection measures. 

In its early years, stealth opened up new opportunities in air combat.  The ability of specially designed and constructed aircraft to avoid detection by deceiving enemy radar dramatically changed capabilities and improved United States air superiority.  Unfortunately, stealth was oversold and viewed as a revolutionary alternative to EW.

The fielding of stealth technology and aircraft at the end of the Cold War led to a neglect of EW missions and technologies.  This problem has been most apparent in the Air Force.  Despite the critical importance of EW in Operation Desert Storm, the Air Force decided to retire its EF-111 Raven and F-4G Wild Weasel electronic-warfare aircraft in the 1990s, thus, leaving the primary responsibility of support jamming to the Navy and the EA-6B Prowler, its principle electronic-warfare asset.  This calculated drift from EW was shortsighted and the consequences are already being seen.  During Operation Allied Force over Kosovo, it became quickly apparent that U.S. Stealth technology alone was not enough – that stealth should not be seen as an alternative to EW, but rather one aspect of it.  While stealth is an important and strategic necessity, it is not a panacea and cannot be relied upon alone to ensure that our aircraft are safe from enemy forces. 

The drift away from EW assets and technology, more specifically support jamming, has placed a great strain on the Navy and its Prowler fleet.  Today, the fleet consists of 124 Prowlers organized in 19 squadrons - - 10 carrier-based, 8 expeditionary (land-based), and one reserve.  The Prowler has proved indispensable in a series of air campaigns such as Operations Northern and Southern Watch (the Iraqi no-fly zones) and Operation Allied Force.  It is very rare for U.S. planes to enter hostile air space anywhere in the world without standoff jamming provided by the Prowler.  In fact, in the Kosovo air offensive, even stealthy strike aircraft were supported by the Prowler, and the sole loss of a U.S. combat plane (an F-117 “stealth fighter”) was directly attributable to lack of adequate EW coverage.

Operation Allied Force proved two important points:  1) it reinforced the importance of electronic warfare; and 2) it underscored just how neglected America’s EW assets have become.  There were so few EA-6Bs available worldwide to cope with the requirements of the Balkan air war that Prowlers need to be shifted out of Northeast Asia and the Persian Gulf region, leaving those areas temporarily uncovered.  None of this should have been necessary in a nation adequately postured to fight two “major theater wars.”

The simple truth is that America’s airborne electronic-warfare forces are overworked and underfunded.  To make matters worse, they are beginning to show their age: the average Prowler is nearly 20 years old.  With this in mind, it is important that the Pentagon work diligently to produce a new airframe for support jamming, and take steps to preserve EW capabilities on the Prowler until a new platform(s) is selected and fully operational sometime in the next decade.

An advanced digital EW architecture for the next-generation support jammer called ICAP-3 will soon be operational, and will initially be deployed on Prowlers before it transitions to more modern aircraft.  But there are a host of other EW or EW-related shortfalls that must be addressed, from better connectivity to more precise anti-radar munitions to night-vision devices for pilots. 

Support jamming, however, does pose two problems.  First, it can be expensive to supply adequate support jamming for all U.S. aircraft entering enemy air space and equip aircraft with advanced jamming capabilities.  Second, support jamming can have trouble defeating multiple anti-aircraft systems.  In Operation Allied Force, it was not uncommon for Serbian forces to fire from multiple defensive systems to attempt a hit on U.S. aircraft.  While they were relatively unsuccessful, this tactic did reveal a weakness, albeit small, in support jamming. 

With this said, it is necessary that an additional layer of EW technology be provided to ensure aircraft survivability – radio-frequency (RF) and IR self-protection.  The significance of self-protection countermeasures was again clearly observed during Operation Allied Force.  In fact, the ALE-50 towed RF decoy was one of the most effective countermeasure devices used during the air campaign and was credited with saving several aircraft.  Therefore, it is essential that Congress and the Pentagon provide for a robust individual aircraft self-protection capability by continuing to support and fund the development and procurement of RF and IR self-protection, including laser Directed IR Countermeasures (DIRCM).

The self-protection expendables, which include chaff, towed IR decoys, covert Special Material Decoys (SMD), and multi-spectral and thrusted advanced flares, provide a relatively low-cost and highly effective layer of protection against enemy air defenses.  Pilots can pre-emptively dispense expendable countermeasures to deny missile lock-on for protection during a bombing pass or aerial engagement and reactively dispense them to break missile lock-on.  Furthermore, countermeasures such as SMD are covert and unobservable during either day or night missions and are essential for protecting our aircraft from a range of adversary IR guided missiles.  A recent NATO Industrial Armaments Group (NIAG) study concluded that advanced flares would be a necessary complement to future laser DIRCM systems.

As the IR threat advances in Counter-countermeasure (CCM) sophistication and into Imaging Infrared (IIR) Guidance, so must our countermeasures advance.   Laser DIRCM self-protection, the next generation of IR countermeasures, will be required to defeat the advanced IR missile threat.  Development and fielding of all-band lasers and two-color IR missile warning systems are essential if our military forces are to keep up with the threat.

Certainly, this is simply the tip of the iceberg in terms EW.  It is clear that for the United States to maintain air superiority, the Pentagon must adopt and commit themselves to an across-the-board development of EW assets and capabilities.  This requires that U.S. aircraft have multiple-layer protection with an emphasis on support jamming and RF and IR countermeasures.

America’s airborne EW assets have become overcommitted and underfunded, as they are called on to do more and more in the post-Cold War era.  For the sake of our national security, this is unacceptable and we must work to change this alarming trend.  EW is not receiving sufficient attention from the armed forces and is not well-understood in Congress.  Before genuine change can be realized, however, Congress needs to better understand the evolving role of electronic warfare in the new security environment.  That is the reason why I have established an Electronic Warfare Working Group.  The working group serves as a resource on EW priorities to Members of Congress and the defense community and guides these priorities through the legislative process.

The performance of U.S. forces in Operation Allied Force made clear that Congress and the Pentagon alike need to pay closer attention to electronic warfare, not just because it is a high-leverage warfighting skill, but also because of the strides other nations are making in the EW arena.  America cannot maintain its military edge in the new millennium unless it continues to control the electromagnetic spectrum in wartime.

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