The U.S. Air Force plans to stand up the 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing to focus on offensive electronic warfare (EW) “real soon,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown said on Jan. 27.
“The Air Force has been really not focused on the electromagnetic spectrum, and we’ve neglected it, kind of as a newer mindset,” he told an Association of Old Crows virtual forum. “We’ve allowed a reduction of offensive airborne electronic attack since [Operation] Desert Storm [in 1991]. We’ve emphasized more of the defensive aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum much more over the offensive, and we’ve assumed that we’ve always had connectivity and sensor dominance. That’s been pretty easy to do over the course of the last 20 years. We’ve been fighting violent extremists and didn’t really have much of a capability in this particular spectrum.”
While stealth and defensive countermeasures have functioned well in such electronically uncontested battlefield environments, “we can no longer solely depend on defensive capability and expect to be successful,” he said. “We’re using the same systems that we’ve been using over the course of the past 25 to 30 years, or actually probably since I was a young captain.”
New offensive EW capabilities are to increase U.S. prowess against technologically advanced nations, such as China. Brown would not comment on the location of the wing. “We’re still going through our briefing process,” he said.
DoD’s primary EW aircraft have been the Navy EA-18G Growler by Boeing [BA] and the Air Force EC-130H Compass Call by Lockheed Martin [LMT], and the Air Force plans to field EC-37B Compass Call Re-Host aircraft by BAE Systems. The EC-37B is based on the Gulfstream [GD] G550 business jet. The Lockheed Martin F-35 also has an integrated EW suite.
James Faist, the former director of Defense Research and Engineering for Advanced Capabilities (DDR&E AC), said last June that his office was focusing on EW dominance as “a many-on-many offensive capability viable in highly contested environments” (Defense Daily, June 22, 2020). That work was to feed off related work on artificial intelligence, autonomy, cyber systems, fully networked C3, and quantum capabilities for resilient Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT)–much of it reliant on Global Positioning System satellites.
“We’re planning on standing up a Spectrum Warfare Wing to enable us to work our fielded forces to continually contest the adversary and look at how we look at the functionalities of our C4I systems and our kill chains and our logistics,” Brown said on Jan. 27 of the Air Force EW effort. “At the same time, we’re looking at how we speed up from the detection to a maneuver and fire in the electromagnetic spectrum. This is a good start, but it’s not enough, particularly when I feel that we may have been asleep at the wheel for the past 25 or 30 years. We have a long way to go, particularly when you think about great power competition and our adversaries. They use information and the electromagnetic spectrum to their advantage.”