U.S. Airborne Electronic Attack Programs: Background and Issues for Congress
May 14, 2019
U.S. airborne electronic warfare (EW) programs involve developing and procuring EW aircraft and EW systems that are mounted on U.S. aircraft. The President’s FY2020 budget request or the Department of Defense (DOD)proposes funding for a number of airborne EW programs.
The Role of Airborne EW in Modern Warfare
EW is a component of modern warfare, particularly in response to threats posed by potential adversaries such as Russia or China. EW refers to operations that use the electromagnetic spectrum (i.e., the “airwaves”) to detect, listen to, jam, and deceive (or “spoof”) enemy radars, radio communication systems, data links, and other electronic systems. EW also refers to operations that defend against enemy attempts to do the same.
The shift in the international security environment from the post-Cold War era to an era of renewed great power competition has led to an increased focus on EW in U.S. defense planning and programming, particularly aspects of EW related to high-end warfare.
U.S. Airborne Electronic Attack Capabilities
Airborne EW capabilities are a component of U.S. military airpower. Although dedicated U.S. EW aircraft are relatively few in number compared with U.S. fighters, strike fighters, and attack aircraft, they play a role in helping to ensure the combat survivability and effectiveness of other aircraft and friendly forces on the ground.
DOD’s three primary manned EW electronic attack aircraft are the Navy EA-18G Growler, the Air Force EC-130H Compass Call, and the Air Force EC-37B Compass Call Re-Host. A fourth manned aircraft—the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—has extensive, integrated EW capabilities.
DOD’s primary airborne electronic attack payloads include the AN/ALQ-99 electronic attack suite, the Next Generation Jammer, and the Miniature Air Launched Decoy-Jammer.
EW Oversight Issues for Congress
Congress has continually shown interest in EW, and the decisions it makes regarding EW could affect future U.S. military capabilities and funding requirements. In particular, EW programs pose several potential oversight issues for Congress:
-- Whether DOD is prioritizing appropriately airborne EW programs in its planning and budgeting relative to other U.S. military EW programs (such as those for U.S. ground forces or Navy surface ships) and to other DOD non-EW priorities.
-- Whether DOD’s proposed mix of airborne EW capabilities and investments is appropriate.
-- The evolution of technology and how new technologies can be employed for EW operations.
-- The Air Force’s planned rate for procuring EC-37Bs and replacing EC-130Hs.
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