The U.S. Air Force and Navy are to create joint expeditionary, land-based electronic attack squadrons with the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve under Section 121 of the House-Senate conference agreement of the House-Senate fiscal 2023 defense authorization bill.
The deal would require the Navy to retain its fleet of Boeing [BA] EA-18Gs through fiscal 2027 and transfer expeditionary EA-18G squadrons to the Navy Reserve.
No later than six months after the enactment of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, the Navy and Air Force are to submit a report “on a strategy and execution plan to continuously and effectively meet airborne electronic attack training and combat employment requirements of the joint force,” per a joint explanatory statement on the House-Senate bill. “The strategy and execution plan shall, at a minimum, include the establishment or continuation of one or more joint service expeditionary, land-based electronic attack squadrons to equal or exceed the capacity and capability of such squadrons at currently existing basing locations. The plan should comprise integration and utilization of both reserve and active-duty component forces and resources within both military departments.”
The Navy has 158 EA-18Gs, but the service’s fiscal 2023 budget request proposed phasing out land-based Growlers, starting with 25 in fiscal 2023. Such land-based EA-18Gs include five squadrons–VAQs 131, 132, 134, 135 and 138 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
The Air Force, for its part, looks to make offboard jamming a reality through the employment of drones. Last year, the Air Force and BAE Systems moved the electronic warfare (EW) system of the EC-130H Compass Call onto what is to be the Air Force’s next generation onboard EW plane, the BAE Systems’ EC-37B (Defense Daily, Dec. 2, 2021).
BAE Systems’ Small Adaptive Bank of Electronic Resources (SABER) technology is the backbone of the EC-37B’s operating system and is to facilitate EW upgrades for the aircraft.
The EC-37B is based on the Gulfstream [GD] G550 business jet.
The EC-130H Compass Call has been in service since 1981 to disrupt enemy communications, radar, and navigation systems.
In June last year, the Air Force stood up the 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing under Air Combat Command to focus on offensive EW and consolidate all Air Force electromagnetic spectrum efforts (Defense Daily, June 25, 2021).
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown has said that the service has not focused on EW and has allowed its atrophy since Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Brown said that while defensive EW has sufficed against threats from foreign violent extremists, the 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing will be critical in countering Russia and China.
Yet, reports have indicated that Russia has been unable to achieve air superiority during its assault on Ukraine, and Brown has said that the Air Force will glean lessons from the Russian performance.
Russian forces “really haven’t looked at suppression of enemy air defenses [in Ukraine], and I would say their air power [was] more closely where they had ground superiority,” Brown said this summer. “Based on their doctrine, they kind of stuck to where they were overhead where their ground forces were. They wouldn’t venture very far because of what the Ukrainians were able to do with their air defenses. One of the things the Ukrainians were able to do with their air defenses was not to keep them static and stay fairly dynamic, which made it more difficult. If you can’t do dynamic targeting very well, you’re going to have a hard time hitting moving targets. That’s something we do fairly well, and something we’re going to continue working on.”