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This article was Originally Published on Oct 20, 2005 in Volume: 4  Issue: 3

Electronic Warfare: A Critical Asset

EW technology is the warfighting discipline best suited to counter any threat on the conflict spectrum.

By Representative Rick Larsen, D-WA

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As I’ve told my sons, freedom is not free. We must earn freedom and protect it once we have it. In the United States, many take our nation’s hard-won freedoms for granted. They do not realize that defending freedom is a tough job, that the women and men who are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world are doing just that every day.

I am particularly proud to represent in Congress the electronic warfare community, one of the most unique and important military communities defending our country.

Washington State’s 2nd Congressional District, which I serve, provides unique training ground for the electronic warfare community and the military’s tactical electronic warfare aircraft, the EA-6B Prowler. As co-chair of the House Electronic Warfare Working Group, I fight both for Prowler funding and to raise the profile of electronic warfare (EW) programs both in Congress and at the Pentagon.

Our electronic warfare warriors not only make a tremendous contribution toward defeating the enemy, but they also save lives and protect the women and men of our military on the battlefield. EW and Information Operations (IO) expertise are central to overall U.S. military superiority. They are among the most flexible, cost-effective and creative of the warfighting disciplines. They may be the best-suited to counter any threat on the conflict spectrum.

At the same time that we are fighting a global war against terrorism, our military is facing dramatic changes as it adapts itself to the 21st century. We are combating terrorism at home and abroad, confronting rogue nations and countering other asymmetric threats.

The enemy is not as easy to spot as it once was. In today’s world, we worry about devices that can be exploded from a cell phone nearly as much as artillery fire. Improvised explosive devices are threatening our soldiers and Marines each week in Iraq. Military and commercial aircraft must now worry about shoulder-fired missiles.

With these emerging threats, our armed forces have learned better ways to defeat the enemy, identify weaknesses and discover technology to develop for the future.

Amidst this changing military landscape, we have learned the critical importance of electronic warfare in maintaining the upper hand on the battlefield and in countering threats.

Today we understand better than ever that electronic warfare is essential to success in military operations. Electronic warfare provides access to the battle space and degrades our enemy’s ability to attack. In doing so, EW saves lives. The development and employment of EW assets and capabilities, especially in an urban warfare environment, have proven to be invaluable in neutralizing or degrading unconventional threats as well.

The Electronic Warfare Working Group, made up of 31 members of Congress, continues to spread the message on Capitol Hill that EW plays an important role in our military as a critical asset for our operations abroad and must be maintained at the forefront of our military’s arsenal. EW will surely be a strong component of a transformed military.

Representative Joe Pitts, R-PA, started the caucus, and I serve as a co-chair. The working group allows us to coordinate in Congress our advocacy efforts for EW funding. We also educate fellow members and reinforce with the Department of Defense the importance of EW.

While my focus in the working group is on Prowlers and Navy EW, the group’s members work together on EW issues that span the entire armed forces. For example, another program that the working group supports is the EC-130H, or Compass Call, which is the primary Air Force EW platform. While there are only 14 Compass Call aircraft, they have proven invaluable for operations in Iraq. This versatile platform was instrumental in jamming the enemy’s command and control communications during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Prowler Role

Of the many Electronic Warfare Working Group accomplishments, I am most proud of our ability to help EA-6Bs stay in the air. The Prowler is the only dedicated airborne radar jamming asset available to protect forces, especially Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force aircraft.

Prowlers played an invaluable role in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Today they continue in their mission as our fighting men and women work to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan and will continue to be invaluable until our job is done.

The requirement for the Prowler was highlighted in Operation Allied Force in Kosovo. DoD realized that it could not effectively protect our pilots, and therefore accomplish military objectives without Prowler technology and capability. Not one U.S. aircraft embarked on its mission in Kosovo without being accompanied by a Prowler. The military commander of the operation, General Wesley Clark, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “We couldn’t have fought this war successfully without the EA-6B contribution. We really need the electronic warfare capacity that we have there.”

The Kosovo Conflict also highlighted the general scarcity of Prowlers. Ten squadrons were deployed in Kosovo. Yet even with a large number of Prowlers there, they could not keep pace with the combat sorties. When Prowlers were unavailable, operational planners were forced to wait for them to become available. This delay slowed the operational tempo of Operation Allied Force.

Military analyst Edward Luttwak said that the lack of EW aircraft “was the constraining element of the entire air campaign. It was like having 13 Cadillacs and one gallon of gas.”

What happened in Kosovo made it clear that we could not afford to let the EA-6B platform disintegrate. As a high-demand aircraft already stretched thin, it was important to ensure that the maximum number of Prowlers would be ready at any given moment. This understanding and need was the beginning of the EW working group, which was formed in 1999.

Additionally, it was time to push for the next generation platform that could do the job of the EA-6B and more. After September 11, 2001, we realized that we needed to advance our capability to defeat emerging threats to national security. It was necessary to make sure that all Prowlers could complete their missions so that our other warfighters could complete their missions.

In December 2002, the Navy determined that many EA-6B outer wing panels were reaching the end of their fatigue life. The fatigue analysis resulted in the grounding of eight Prowlers. Since then, the EW working group has successfully pushed Congress to fund $130 million for outer wing panel replacement.

The group also focused on fixing problems with Prowler wing center sections. The aluminum used in many Prowler wing center sections was in worse shape than other parts of the plane. Additionally, Navy analysis revealed that wing center section damage on EA-6Bs was even worse than they anticipated. Since fiscal year 2003, we have been able to secure more than $20 million to solve this problem.

Tactical Jamming

While we are solving structural problems, we also need to do more to ensure that the Prowler is always at peak readiness and ready to combat future threats.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, one of my top priorities is to work with Congress to ensure that we are on schedule in the development of jamming technology for the Prowler and the Prowler’s follow-on, the EA-18G. ICAP III, as this system is called, is being developed by Northrop Grumman and was designed to counter future surface-to-air missile threats. It will allow tactical jammers to intercept, identify, locate and track the more robust enemy threats of the future.

Current funding for ICAP III produces too few systems. If ICAP III production is kept at its current pace, training will be short-changed and it will be more difficult for the military to successfully transition its airborne electronic attack capabilities. 

As we work to develop the new technologies like ICAP III, it is equally important to ensure that the development of the follow-on to the Prowler, the EA-18G, stays on schedule. Initial operational capability for the plane is currently scheduled for 2009. It is imperative that Congress provide adequate resources to ensure that we begin the program no later than 2009. Less EW capability in the air means that more of the men and women in the military who risk their lives in theater will be vulnerable.

The future of Navy airborne electronic attack resides with the upcoming EA-18G. The Navy is planning to purchase 90 EA-18Gs that will equip 10 fleet squadrons of five aircraft each. This will allow for one squadron for each carrier air wing and one fleet readiness training squadron. NAS Whidbey, WA, has been chosen as the air station that will handle the new platform’s demands. I am also happy to report that Congress authorized the purchase of the first four planes in the House version of the fiscal year 2006 defense authorization bill.

As the sole provider of tactical electronic attack capability, the EA-6B force must be ready. Additionally, the EA-18G must be ready in the future. Both of these platforms must have the most effective jamming gear available. They must also be able to effectively communicate with their partners in the sky, on the ground and at sea. By supporting these modest initiatives, Congress can help ensure the effectiveness and survivability of all U.S. tactical aircraft well into the future.

The EW community is the best that our military has to offer. Electronic warfare represents the future of our military. It is a growing and adapting capability that stands at the forefront of the war on terrorism. Within the Navy and DoD, the EW profile has grown. It is our job here in Congress to share that message with all that we can.

Larsen is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and co-chair of the Electronic Warfare Working Group.



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