Air Force Explains Electronic Warfare Restructure Following ECCT Review

Two Miniature Air Launch Decoys sit side by side in the munitions storage area on Barksdale AFB, La., March 21, 2012. MALDs, when uploaded to the B-52H Stratofortress, are capable of reprogramming while the aircraft is in flight. MALDs are programmed to run several different routes to give aircrews more options when flying in enemy territory. Air Force photo by A1C Micaiah Anthony.

Close on the heels of Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes’ teaser on the results of a year-long review of electronic warfare, the Air Force on Tuesday gave some more specifics on how it will add new organizations and structure to better address electromagnetic superiority in the coming years.

Holmes, at an AFA industry seminar at JB Langley-Eustis last week, revealed that the yearlong EW Enterprise Capabilities Collaboration Team review made three main recommendations.

  • Create an EMS champion on the Air Staff
  • Consolidate the Air Force’s disparate and uncoordinated EMS activities into a new organization
  • Re-invigorate USAF’s “warrior ethos” in electronic warfare.

Practitioners of the EMS craft have complained for a decade or more that the USAF’s efforts in electronic warfare and electronic attack were too stovepiped and inadequate to the threats being built by China, Russia and others.

ECCT team leader Brig. Gen. David Gaedecke in a USAF release said changes planned as a result of the review will allow the service to “maintain our competitive advantage in EMS to achieve freedom of action while denying the adversary that same freedom of action.” Electronic warfare is essential to “execute the Air Force’s five core missions,” he said, and the service “should deliberately refocus efforts on electronic warfare and the EMS as a whole.”

The first main action will be to establish a “unifying and organizing corporate governance” of EMS at headquarters, Air Force. This will be called the EMS Superiority Directorate, and it will be headed by a general officer. That officer will oversee and manage “enterprise-wide EMS priorities and investments,” which will be “managed as a single portfolio.”

Potentially, that portfolio will include MALD decoys and jammers; electronic warfare systems such as the EPAWSS electronic warfare suite for the F-15Cs and Es; podded self-protection jammers like the ALQ-131; radar and sensor systems on USAF’s fighter and strike fleets, and possibly the portfolio of electro-optical and infrared targeting systems like the F-35 EOTS and the Advanced Sniper and Litening targeting pods. It’s not clear if the new EW czar also will have purview over offensive cyber weapons or monitoring systems.

Second, a new “multi-domain organization” will be created that will consolidate EMS activities across the Air Force, such as “software programming infrastructure and expertise.” This organization will be aimed at “achieving real-time effects” and enabling the move toward “machine-to-machine adaptive and cognitive spectrum control.” In order to “win” this fight, the Air Force will “employ distributed systems and capabilities operating in coordination” to defeat enemy EMS systems seeking to disrupt US “Joint Force” capabilities.

Third, presumably under the new EMS champion, the Air Force will aim to nurture an “EMS warrior ethos” by building enterprise-wide education and training programs; not just for practitioners of electronic warfare and EMS, but “in airmen at all levels,” because information operations affect nearly every job in the service.

Operational concepts, tactics, and doctrine, as well as USAF’s EMS expertise writ large, “will progressively advance” now that the US is again focused on “a near-peer in the EMS domain,” the Air Force said.

In its release Tuesday, the service did not specify a timeline for establishing the new EMS coordinator office, and a public affairs spokesman said further information is not available.

Gaedecke addressed these points at USAF’s classified Weapons and Tactics Conference at Nellis AFB, Nev., in January, according to the release. There he said EMS superiority is “fundamental” to the National Defense Strategy, and requires USAF leadership in “research, technology, and innovation. Superiority in the spectrum underpins all of these.”

USAF also gave a shout-out to the “Old Crows;” practitioners of all forms of electronic combat “who have kept the flame alive for years.”

In the interview with Air Force Magazine, Holmes said he doesn’t anticipate returning to a dedicated jamming platform like the EF-111 “Spark ‘Vark,” which was retired circa 1999 with no apparent direct successor. The Air Force subsequently partnered with the Navy on the EA-6B Prowler and still participates in the Navy’s EA-18 Growler electronic attack stand-in jamming aircraft program.

“Right now I’d say we’re pursuing a … distributed electronic warfare strategy,” Holmes said.

However, he left open the possibility that the Air Force may pursue a “Penetrating Electronic Attack” platform in the future, saying it is an option being evaluated as part of the Next-Generation Air Dominance family of systems.