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The Death Of Airborne Electronic Warfare?
AUTHOR Major Lester A. Daugherty, USMC
CSC 1990
                        EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
THESIS: Although the "death of the Prowler" could result in
the loss of Marine Corps airborne electronic warfare
capability, it might also open the door to our first multi-
mission V/STOL capability.
ISSUE:  The Marine Corps is in danger of losing their only
airborne electronic warfare capability.  The EA-6B Prowler
is an expensive platform which is nearing the end of its
production life.  Although the Navy is exploring options for
a replacement aircraft, there are several concerns which the
Marine Corps must consider.  Production requirements have
fallen short of Navy/Marine Corps requirements.  This may
lead to severe logistical support shortfalls, as well as an
inability for the Navy to cover all of their aircraft
carrier commitments.  As support deteriorates, so does
mission readiness capability.  This affects our ability to
provide quality electronic warfare support to the MAGTF.  As
Marines are required to fill gaps with carrier deployments,
we also degrade our MAGTF capability by pulling our EA-6B
assets away from the ACE.  The Navy is considering a multi-
mission platform as a candidate replacement.  This platform
exceeds Marine Corps system requirements, but does not
address our requirement for timely and flexible response
through full integration of the ACE and GCE afloat.
Adequate full integration capability can only be achieved
through V/STOL technology.  Both the helicopter and the MV-
22 Osprey provide the essential flexibility needed to
support the MAGTF at sea; but of these alternatives, only
the MV-22 has the performance capability to support the ACE
in over-the-horizon assault capability.  If the Navy elects
to pursue an aircraft which is not compatible with Marine
Corps requirements, we must meet our requirements as
efficiently as possible through the pursuit of a multi-
mission V/STOL platform.
CONCLUSION:  Electronic Warfare capability is essential to
the MAGTF.  If we are forced to give up the EA-6B Prowler we
must find a replacement.  By combining the Marine Corps
requirements for electronic warfare, airborne command and
control, and medium lift, we can provide the MAGTF with
three essential mission capabilities for the price of one.
The cost of such a platform and capability is small in
comparison to the cost of not replacing the Prowler.
THESIS STATEMENT.  Although the "death of the Prowler" could
result in the loss of Marine Corps electronic warfare (EW)
capability, it might also open the door to our first multi-
mission capability.
I.   Do we need Marine Corps airborne EW capability?
     A.   EW capability is essential to the MAGTF.
     B.   The Prowler is our only airborne EW capability?
II.  Why is Marine Corps EW capability in trouble?
     A.   The primary reason is high cost.
     B.   The EA-6B is nearing the end of its service life.
     C.   The Marine Corps does not have a replacement for
     the Prowler.
III. Is there potential for trouble in the Navy plan?
     A.   The period between the halt of Prowler production
     and the introduction of the next generation aircraft
     will away our ability to sustain operations.
     B.   Marine Corps assets will be pulled away from the
     MAGTF to support the Navy.
     C.   The Navy ATS concept does not meet Marine Corps
IV.  What are Marine Corps requirements for the future?
     A.   The Marine Corps must focus on better supporting
     the MAGTF.
     B.   Timely and flexible response capability is
     C.   We must achieve full integration of the ACE and
     GCE when afloat.
     D.   Is the helo a good option?
V.   What is the best platform to satisfy future Marine
     Corps EW requirements?
     A.   Multi-mission V/STOL capability is the answer.
     B.   The MV-22 offers suitable performance.
     C.   Platform versatility is a major selling point.
CONCLUSION:  By combining the Marine Corps requirements for
electronic warfare, airborne command and control, and medium
lift, we can provide the MAGTF with three essential mission
capabilities for the price of one.  The cost of such a
platform and capability is small in comparison to the cost
of not replacing the Prowler.
     As you sit down with the morning newspaper in hand, you
peer through tired eyes at the following headline:  "MARINE
CORPS KILLS PROWLER."  You swallow your first sip of coffee
and then continue to read.  Are we now involved in combating
crime in the streets?  No, but the fictitious headline above
does reflect concern over a current debate on electronic
warfare mission requirements within Marine Corps aviation.
     Marine Corps planners are looking specifically at the
requirement for Marine Corps airborne electronic warfare
capability as we move into the next century.  Their
attention is focused on whether we need to maintain a
dedicated electronic warfare airborne capability, and if so
how do we best meet Marine Corps requirements.
     Electronic warfare capability is an essential element
to the success of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF).
The death of the "Prowler" equates to loss of the primary
airborne electronic warfare capability for the Marine Corps.
     The EA-6B Prowler is the only aircraft in the Marine
Corps inventory which was built specifically to counter the
electromagnetic threat.  With the deadly sophistication of
the threat environment likely to be encountered in future
conflicts, it is imperative that electronic warfare
capability be maintained, continually updated, and readily
available to support Marines in every facet of our
expeditionary role.
     Why is the Marine Corps suddenly reevaluating the
requirement for airborne electronic warfare?  Perhaps the
primary reason is high cost.  With an approximate price tag
of $106.4 million dollars per plane, the Prowler is a very
costly asset.  This price is based on the FY 91 budget
request for $319.3 million dollars to fund Navy procurement
of three aircraft.1  It is unclear whether this cost
estimate reflects the cost of the basic aircraft, or if it
also reflects full system development, continued software
support, and overall program support.
     Whether an electronic warfare asset is an expendable
weapon, a self-protection suite, or a sophisticated airborne
electronic warfare platform, the capability does not come
inexpensively.  According to Rear Admiral Grady Jackson,
"the Navy is apparently willing to spend close to $2 million
     1Gerald Green, "Few EW Shockers Evident in DOD's FY 91 Budget
Request," Journal of Electronic Defense, 13(March 1990), 20.
for four expendable weapons strapped under the wings of
tactical aircraft."2
     The Prowler seems very cost effective when you consider
that its primary "weapon," the ALQ-99 electronic warfare
system, is part of the aircraft.  When the aircraft returns
safely from the flight, the electronic warfare system
returns with it.  In contrast, an expendable system must be
replaced, at additional cost, before an airplane is back in
the fight.
     Over the past decade the Prowler has been delivered to
the Navy/Marine Corps at a rate of 8-12 per year.  Recently
however, the Navy has considered discontinuing production of
EA-6Bs.  If production should terminate when contemplated,
both the Navy and Marine Corps will fall far short of
acquiring the total 147 aircraft established to meet current
     A current Marine Corps replacement for the Prowler does
not exist.  If the Navy moves toward a replacement aircraft
which does not meet Marine Corps requirements, we will be
unable to afford continued EA-6B production on our own.  We
may also find ourselves priced out of any future electronic
     2Hal Gershanoff, "Navy Concerned About Prowler's Future," EC
Monitor, Journal of Electronic Defense,12(July 1989),26.
warfare capability.
     Massive budget cuts continue to erode procurement for
major aviation platforms despite the requirement for
specific platforms or systems to meet mission essential
needs.  It is the concern over high cost that has brought
the requirement for Marine Corps airborne electronic warfare
under greater scrutiny.  This is true despite the known
value of electronic warfare capability.
     Other Marine aviation requirements, such as medium lift
capability, have received similar attention.  To insure that
further loss of mission capability does not degrade our
ability to fight as an integrated MAGTF, it is essential
that we streamline or consolidate system/platform
requirements and mission requirements.  This is the only way
to maintain our effectiveness as an expeditionary fighting
     The Navy is not abandoning electronic warfare.
Instead, they are looking forward to the next generation
airborne electronic warfare  aircraft.  Consolidation of
mission and platform requirements has been a key
consideration in the development of a replacement for the
EA-6B.  Yet, there is a danger that Marine Corps electronic
warfare requirements will not be met in the Navy's current
plan.  This is due to several factors.
   First, the interim period between the halt in Prowler
manufacturing and the introduction of the next generation
aircraft will bleed away our current ability to sustain
electronic warfare operations.  This is inevitable given the
long lead time required to bring a major program through the
acquisition process and into operational use.
     An area where sustainment of capability becomes a real
nightmare is in logistical support.  The military is
notorious for its failure to maintain life-cycle logistical
support for equipment which is no longer in production.  It
is also common to compound this problem by extending the
service life of a particular item if a replacement is slow
in being introduced to the inventory.
     As an example, the Marine Corps has been plagued with
numerous items of aviation support equipment which enjoy
"hanger queen" status due to obsolescent parts.  One such
example is the AN/USM-406A electronic warfare system test
cart.   Over ten years ago this test cart went out of
production and spare parts were not funded.  Squadrons would
send their carts to intermediate or depot level facilities
for repair and often the equipment would never return.  Many
parts simply were not available to repair the equipment.
Eventually, maintenance departments began to cannibalize
equipment rather than report it inoperable.  The lack of
adequate support occurred because newer equipment was "on
the way" and money spent to maintain support for older
equipment could not be justified.  Unfortunately, newer
equipment arrived years behind schedule and existing
equipment often died in place.
     Stopping production of the Prowler prior to fielding a
suitable replacement aircraft could result in similar
reduction in equipment readiness and capability.  A
degradation in capability will result in sending a carrier
to sea or Navy/Marine air into conflict without the full
protection of airborne electronic warfare.  Failure to
provide electronic protection would invite disaster.
     If production of the EA-6B stops before a replacement
can be dedicated to Navy aircraft carrier support, a second
problem will occur.  This problem will result from our
collateral mission, as described in the overall Marine Corps
aviation mission statement which follows:
     The primary mission of Marine Corps aviation is to
     participate as the supporting air component of the
     FMF in the seizure and defense of advanced naval
     bases and for the conduct of such land operations
     as may be essential to the prosecution of a naval
     campaign.  A collateral mission of Marine Corps
     aviation is to participate as an integral
     component of naval aviation in the execution of
such other Navy functions as the fleet commander
     may direct.3
     Marine Corps Prowlers routinely fill Navy aircraft
carrier commitments when shortfalls occur.  As described in
the previous mission statement, it is our responsibility to
participate as an "integral component of naval aviation"
when directed.  As an example, during 1986, Marine EA-6B
aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing One, USS America,
participated in operations against Libya.  This occurred
because there were insufficient numbers of Navy electronic
warfare aircraft to support the number of aircraft carriers.
     As aircraft production falls further below Navy/Marine
Corps requirements, and as greater asset attrition occurs
due to inadequate life-cycle aircraft support, the frequency
of Marine Corps Prowler support being pulled away to cover
Navy commitments will increase.  As we shift support to
cover these commitments, we will bleed airborne electronic
warfare capability away from the MAGTF.
     The third area of concern is with the Navy's concept
for the next generation electronic warfare aircraft.  This
multi-mission platform, currently dubbed the Advanced
Tactical Surveillance Aircraft (ATS), is planned to replace
     3MCDEC,USMC, Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1 (Quantico, 1979), p. 5.
the E-2C, S-3B, EA-6B, and ES-3A aircraft.4
     A multi-mission platform is a tremendous idea from both
a Navy and Marine Corps standpoint.  It greatly reduces the
requirement for maintenance support equipment, parts,
personnel, facilities, and training.  For these reasons,
significant cost reductions can be realized.  The negative
side to this concept centers around the specific missions
for which the Navy's proposed system would be designed, and
the flexibility of the platform itself.
     Marine Corps critics of the Prowler seldom dispute the
necessity for airborne electronic warfare capability.  The
primary criticism rests with the fact that it is an asset
which is seldom seen in support of Marines.  For this
reason, as we determine the requirements for a future
electronic warfare platform, the Marine Corps must focus on
better supporting the MAGTF.
     Multi-mission capability and platform flexibility seem
to be the most important considerations as we determine how
best to provide electronic warfare support.  Yet, the ATS as
currently envisioned is not really suited to meet Marine
     4Gerald Green,  "Washington Report," Journal of Electronic
Defense, 12,(July 1989), 17.
Corps needs.
     Electronic warfare and airborne command and control are
certainly two compatible areas for integration into a single
platform.  Indeed, both of these mission areas are
established as Marine Corps requirements.  However, the Navy
ATS concept goes well beyond these capabilities.  Mission
areas such as anti-submarine warfare would have little value
in respect to serving Marine Corps mission requirements.
This capability will, however, add tremendous cost to the
     An even greater concern is in the ability of the
aircraft to provide timely support to Marines.  This is a
common problem with most of Marine fixed-wing aviation
today.  It is also the reason we must look beyond the
conventional fixed- wing  platform in defining our future
electronic warfare requirements.
     As the military begins to reduce in size, amphibious
doctrine will become paramount.  We are currently faced with
the likelihood that numerous overseas facilities, currently
serving as forward deployed bases of operation, may be
closed to future United States use.  One such example is
Naval Air Station Cubi Point in the Republic of the
Philippines.  As more facilities close, our fixed-wing
aviation assets will be required to provide support from
greater distances or from afloat.
     Providing support from distant bases of operation will
become a problem.  Although the majority of Marine Corps
fixed wing aviation assets can ferry great distances and can
refuel in flight, there are additional factors which affect
our ability to provide timely and flexible response.
     International overflight rights, landing rights, and
contingency forward basing rights, are very dependent on the
given political situation.  These rights may well be denied
when needed.  The Air Force ran into problems of this type
when called upon to support the 1986 raid on Libya.
     Transit of long distances affects both aircraft and
pilot performance.  The element of surprise, crucial to the
success of any attack, may also be denied when travelling
great distances.  Therefore, the preferred option would be
to have Marine air deployed with the Carrier Battle Group.
This assumes, of course, that the carrier is in close
proximity to Amphibious Task Forces.  Unfortunately this is
not always the case.
     Each of factors mentioned above affect the ability of
most Marine aviation assets to quickly link up with our
ground forces afloat.  Helicopters and AV-8 Harrier aircraft
are currently the only Marine aviation assets capable of
accompanying our Marines at sea.
     The only way to ensure electronic warfare support to
the Air Combat Element of the MAGTF is to fully integrate
the air and ground components.  This cannot be accomplished
with our conventional platforms.  In fact, the Marine Corps
Warfighting Center has proposed that the Marine Corps
achieve an all Vertical/short take-off (V/STOL) air
capability by the year 2010.
     Even without the availability of rapidly responsive
fixed-wing fighter protection and all weather attack
capability, a MAGTF has some capability to support an
amphibious landing with Harrier attack aircraft and Cobra
attack helicopters.  However, we do not have the capability
to provide sustained Marine Corps electronic warfare
support, without bringing a Prowler from another location.
     Since we routinely deploy as a Marine Expeditionary
Unit (MEU) or Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), without
the benefit of airborne electronic warfare support,
electronic warfare is seldom integrated into the overall
concept of operations.  This is another reason why some
officials within the Marine Corps fail to see the value of
an electronic warfare platform.  Their theory being that we
routinely practice without electronic warfare support:
therefore, it can't be that important.
     Electronic warfare capability is not just a luxury, it
is a necessity during amphibious operations.  Those who
profess to understand maneuver warfare realize the
importance of staying one step ahead of an adversary's
thought process.  We must be able to deny information to the
enemy, deceive him as to our intentions, and gain
information on his capabilities and intentions.  This
becomes even more important as threat system improvements
force the Marine Corps into over-the-horizon assault
     Without Electronic Surveillance Measures (ESM) and
Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) capability, the MAGTF
commander cannot adequately shape the modern battlefield.
Unless we are landing on unopposed terrain, our aviation
combat element must gain superiority in order to support
movement ashore.  To attack any adversary equipped with
today's sophisticated threat systems would be disastrous
without the tactical advantage which electronic warfare
     If electronic warfare capability is not fully
integrated into the Amphibious Task Force there is no
guarantee that it will be available when needed.  It is
therefore essential to ensure that any candidate replacement
for the EA-6B be flexible enough to accompany the MAGTF at
all times.
     At present, there are very few acceptable alternatives
for achieving the optimum flexibility required of a Marine
Corps electronic warfare platform.  Of equipment currently
in the Marine Corps inventory, only the helicopter would
have sufficient capacity and flexibility to accompany the
MAGTF when afloat, and to provide electronic warfare support
to an amphibious assault.
     The Soviets have utilized helicopters in an electronic
warfare capacity for many years.  HIP J and HIP K
helicopters are deployed throughout the Soviet Union and
integrated with normal helicopter squadrons.  These assets
are used for both RADAR and communication jamming.  It is
also important to realize that the Soviets are great
believers in the importance of electronic warfare on the
modern battlefield and their tactical doctrine and equipment
are utilized by many third world countries.
     The United States Army has also used helicopters in an
electronic warfare role.  The EH-60A Quick FIX  ECM equipped
helicopter has proven quite effective in land warfare
training since its introduction.
     While the helicopter has proven itself a suitable
jamming platform in land warfare, it is not without certain
weaknesses.  The main problem concerning use of the
helicopter as an electronic warfare platform is in its
inability to achieve the speed and range needed to support
both fixed-wing and helicopter assets during an amphibious
assault.  In particular, a helicopter would need to launch
well in advance of a potential Harrier assault and would be
required to maintain much longer "on-station" time in order
to adequately support such an assault.
     A better platform alternative is available.  This
platform can provide support to an assault force attacking
from over-the-horizon.  Unfortunately, there is still a
major controversy over whether the aircraft will find its
way into the Marine Corps inventory.  I am referring to the
Marine Corps medium lift replacement (MLR) candidate, the
MV-22 Osprey, which was cut from this year's procurement
     The design of the Osprey is such that it has more than
ample cargo capacity and airframe suitability to assume a
multi-mission role.  If the Marine Corps were to pursue a
multi-mission role for the Osprey it could easily adapt the
platform for electronic warfare, command and control, as
well as medium lift.
     The key to flexibility would be in having needed power
supplies, avionics connection points, and antennas installed
at all times.  This would allow for a module type work
station set-up, which could be easily installed to meet
mission requirements.  When not needed in this special
warfare mode, it can be deconfigured to resume the primary
role of medium lift.
     An alternative which is equally attractive but allows
for slightly less mission flexibility is to have a
permanently configured "electronic" Osprey.  This platform
would give up the medium lift capability, but would still
perform both electronic warfare and command and control
missions.  Either configuration alternative should have both
communications and RADAR intercept and jamming capability.
     The three most important factors which make the Osprey
an ideal candidate for a Marine Corps multi-mission platform
are speed, range, and V/STOL capability. The aircraft can
operate in a hover or as a conventional aircraft, allowing
it to deploy with helicopter and Harrier assets. It is also
"faster and longer ranged than any present Marine Corps
helicopter."5   The following comparison of capabilities
between the MV-22 Osprey and the EH-60 Quick Fix serve to
illustrate the difference in capabilities:
Click here to view image
     If the Marine Corps hopes to acquire the Osprey to meet
its medium lift requirement, it must sell each of the
services on the versatility of the V/STOL platform.  In the
words of our Commandant, "Given the era of declining
budgets, the Pentagon must consider multi-mission aircraft
for the future.  Officials should consider the MV-22's
potential for missions like anti-submarine warfare and drug
     5Elizabeth Donovan and David Steigman, "Gray: V-22 substitute
scheme 'ridiculous'," Navy Times, March 5, 1990, p.4.
     6John W. R. Taylor,  ed., Jane's All the World's Aircraft,
1989-1990, Eighteenth Anniversary Edition, (Alexandria, Va: Janes
Information Group, 1989),pp.226-227 and 369-370.
     By combining the Marine Corps requirements for
electronic warfare, airborne command and control, and medium
lift, we can provide the MAGTF with three essential mission
capabilities for the price of one.  The cost of such a
platform and capability is small in comparison to the cost
of not replacing the Prowler.
     Although the "death of the Prowler" could result in the
loss of Marine Corps electronic warfare capability, it might
also open the door to our first multi-mission V/STOL
     Electronic Warfare mission support to the MAGTF is an
absolute requirement. With careful and diligent planning we
can improve our electronic warfare capability, rather than
allow it to further degrade.  The primary improvement comes
with the increased flexibility offered by V/STOL technology.
Multi-mission capability is the key to cost reduction.  Lack
of progressive thinking, and lack of movement toward
fielding an acceptable electronic warfare aircraft, will
result in the death of Marine Corps airborne electronic
warfare capability shortly after the turn of the century.
     7Donovan, p.4.
Carlucci, Frank C., Secretary of Defense. Annual Report to the
     Congress. Fiscal Year 1990. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government
     Printing Office. 1989.
Donovan, Elizabeth, and Steigman, David, "Gray: V-22 Substitute
     Scheme `Ridiculous'," Navy Times, March 5, 1990.,4
Gershanoff. "Navy Concerned about Prowler,s Future," EC Monitor,
     Journal of Electronic Defense, 12(July 1989), 26.
Green, Gerald.  "Few EW Shockers Evident in DOD's FY 91  Budget
     Request." Journal of Electronic Defense, 13(March 1990),20.
Green, Gerald. "Washington Report," Journal of Electronic Defense,
     12(July 1989),17.
Lewis, William J.  The Warsaw Pact: Arms, Doctrine, and Strategy.
     Cambridge: Institute for foreign Policy Analysis/McGraw-
     Hill, 1982.
Taylor, John W. R., ed. Jane's All The Worlds Aircraft 1989-1990.
     Eighteenth Anniversary Edition. Alexandria: Janes Information
     Group, 1989.
U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Command.
     Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1. Quantico, 1979.

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