Tactical Electronic Warfare Aircraft In The Twenty-First Century
SUBJECT AREA - Electronic Warfare (EW)
Title: TACTICAL ELECTRONIC WARFARE AIRCRAFT IN THE TWENTY-FIRST
Author: Major R. A. Muegge, Student, United States Marine Corps,
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Thesis: There are too many different types of tactical
Electronic Warfare (EW) aircraft in the US military. The
solution is to phase out the Air Force's EF-111A and replace it
with the Navy/Marine Corps' EA-6B.
Background: In the aftermath of the Cold War, the proper
reduction of military forces and systems is critical. Senator
Nunn identified two aircraft that should be considered for
consolidation: the EA-6B and the EF-111A. While both the EA-6B
and the EF-111A performed admirably during the Gulf War, the
EA-6B stood out as the most capable tactical EW aircraft. The
EA-6B's ability to shoot the High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile
(HARM) made it invaluable. The EA-6B is undergoing the EA-6B
Advanced Capabilities (ADVCAP) upgrade that will continue to keep
it well ahead of all tactical EW aircraft in the world. The
EF-111A upgrade will, at best, make it as capable as the current
version of the EA-6B.
Recommendation: The EF-111A should be phased out of the US
inventory. The EA-6B ADVCAP program should be expanded in order
to provide the Air Force with the EA-6B ADVCAP, to replace the
loss of the EF-111A. This is a "win-win" proposition for both
the Navy/Marine Corps and the Air Force. The US military gets the
best tactical EW aircraft at an overall lower cost.
TACTICAL ELECTRONIC WARFARE AIRCRAFT
IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
THESIS: There are too many different types of tactical
Electronic Warfare (EW) aircraft in the US military. The
solution to this problem is to phase out the Air Force's EF-111A
and replace it with the Navy/Marine Corps' EA-6B.
I. History of Electronic Warfare
A. The Beginnings of EW
B. History of the EA-6B
C. History of the EF-111A
II. Capabilities of the Tactical EW aircraft.
A. Capabilities of the EA-6B
B. Capabilities of the EF-111A
III. Gulf War Performance
A. Marine Corps EA-6B performance
B. Navy EA-6B performance
C. EF-111A performance
IV. The Problem
C. Unity of effort
V. The Solution
A. Reduced costs
B. The EA-6B Advanced Capabilities
C. The EF-111A Systems Improvement Program
D. Joint interoperability
TACTICAL ELECTRONIC WARFARE AIRCRAFT
IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
In 1947 when the Department of Defense came into being, the
debate over the roles and missions of the services caused many
fierce debates. The Key West agreement, hammered out by the
military service chiefs under the leadership of Secretary of
Defense James Forrestal in 1948, resolved many problems.
One issue that the Key West agreement did not resolve was the
prevention and elimination of redundancy and duplication among
the military services. The services developed their own version
of weapon systems, usually regardless of sister service similar
systems. This lack of coordination and joint effort stemmed a
great deal from the fight for survival among the services and a
"superior service mentality" that presupposed that each service
could do a better job of developing their own weapons. This
practice led to the production of many weapon systems, especially
tactical combat aircraft, that could perform most of the missions
required by all the services. Had the services undertaken
concept, development, and production efforts together, a number
of aircraft would be common to all the service air forces and
capable of meeting each service's mission requirements.
The joint effort required to produce a satisfactory aircraft
must begin in the concept phase and continue throughout the life
of the aircraft. Attempts to begin development of common
aircraft at any other phase than the concept phase can and often
has led to failure. One such example is the F-111 program.
James McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, wanted the F-111 to
become the Air Force and Navy fighter. The F-111 was under full
scale development when this decision was made. Meanwhile, the
F-14 was under development by the Navy as its choice for a long
range fighter. Because the engineers did not design the F-111
with carrier capability in mind, trying to adapt the F-111 to
carrier requirements cost large sums of money and delayed the
F-14 program. The F-111 failed carrier suitability tests for a
large number of reasons ranging from its size and weight to speed
and safety considerations during the approach and landing phase.
Had the common fighter issue been addressed as a joint issue from
the concept phase, the F-111 might well have succeeded.
The specific issue addressed in this paper, stems from Senator
Sam Nunn's speech on the Senate floor, on 2 July, 1992. The
The Navy's aircraft is the EA-6B, widely considered the best
in the world. The Air Force jammer is the EF-111. The Navy
has done a better job than has the Air Force of modernizing
its jammer fleet. But ironically, even though the Navy has
a better overall modernization program, budget pressure
within Navy aviation is forcing them to stretch out the
EA-6B program, and there have even been indications the
program might be canceled. In other words, both services
are trying to maintain fleets of stand-off jammers, but
budget pressure is seriously limiting their modernization
Senator Nunn clearly articulated the problem of too many
different types of tactical Electronic Warfare (EW) aircraft
operating in the US military. The solution is evident and within
our grasp: phase out the EF-111A and replace it with the EA-6B.
The use of terminology is confusing; further explanation will
set the foundation for a better understanding of EW. EW refers
to a broad spectrum of measures taken against the enemy's
electronic capabilities. The two major subsets of EW are
Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) and Electronic Surveillance
Measures (ESM). ECM, in a word, is jamming, an active/offensive
measure taken against enemy radars and radio communication. ECM
and jamming will be used throughout this paper synonymously.
ESM, on the other hand, is a passive measure that detects,
records, and analyzes the enemy's electronic emissions. The
collection of electronic emissions allows the intelligence
community to determine what threats exist and where they are
located, commonly referred to as the Electronic Order of Battle
(EOB). ESM is then used to determine what ECM will defeat the
enemy's EW capability.
This paper will provide the reader with a historical
background of EW and specifically, the development of the EA-6B
and the EF-111A. A clear understanding of the nature of the
problem and a detailed analysis of both aircraft's capabilities
will enable the reader to better understand how logical and
appropriate the solution is.
A central theme throughout the development of tactical EW
aircraft is that they evolved along parallel lines, only crossing
paths periodically. This parallel path development of tactical
EW aircraft is not an indictment on the way things are done but
more an indication of the way things have always been done. A
classic example of the result of parallel path development is the
EA-6B and the EF-111A.
HISTORY OF ELECTRONIC WARFARE
The beginnings of EW can be traced at least as far back as
1916 when Fleet Admiral Sir Henry Jackson used EW prior to the
Battle of Jutland. Using coastal radio direction finders, Sir
Henry determined the direction of movement of the German fleet
and maneuvered the British fleet on the basis of this
information. This was the first use of what is referred today as
EW became a vital weapon during World War II. Allies used ECM
against both the Germans and the Japanese. ECM saved an
estimated 450 United States bombers and 4,500 airmen from
destruction by radar-controlled German flak. (8:1) In his war
memoirs Winston Churchill wrote:
During the human struggle between the British and the German
Air Forces, between pilot and pilot, between AAA batteries
and aircraft, between ruthless bombing and fortitude of the
British people, another conflict was going on, step by step,
month by month. This was a secret war, whose battles were
lost or won unknown to the public, and only with difficulty
comprehended, even now, to those outside the small
scientific circles concerned. Unless British science had
proven superior to German, and unless its strange, sinister
resources had been brought to bear in the struggle for
survival, we might well have been defeated, and defeated,
Churchill was specifically referring to events that happened
during the bombing of Britain by the Luftwaffe. He called it
"The Wizard War", and its importance made him an ardent supporter
In the early stages of World War II, EW was known as Radio
Countermeasures (RCM). The first true jamming of signals
occurred in 1940 when the British, using ground based jammers,
retransmitted signals on the same frequency that the Germans were
transmitting navigation signals to their bombers. This jamming
had the affect of rendering the navigational beams useless and in
some cases caused the German bombers to mistakenly drop their
bombs in the English Channel.
The first case of airborne jamming, also the first case of
communication jamming, occurred in the Libyan campaign during
November 1941. British aircraft jammed German tank radios.
Although the EW equipment was crude, it had a dramatically
negative affect on the Germans.
The US's first use of airborne EW was also its first use of
EW. In January 1943, a B-24D, specially configured with ESM
equipment, gathered electronic data on a probable Japanese radar
site, on the island of Kista, in the Aleutians. These first ESM
aircraft were known as "Ferrets". This Ferret confirmed the
existence of the radar site, determined its characteristics, and
collected radar coverage data that allowed bombers to
successfully attack and destroy the radar site.
The use of EW in the form of both radar and communication
jamming played a critical role in the Normandy invasion. On
D-Day, a combination of over 600 airborne, seaborne, and land
based jammers blinded the German radars and disrupted the control
of German fighters. The success of Operation Overlord owed a
great deal to EW in achieving surprise and protecting its vital
lines of communication from detection.
In 1947, the Air Force established its first Electronic
Warfare Officer's course at McGuire AFB, New Jersey with twelve
B-29's. This school focused primarily on ESM. In 1961, the
school established a permanent residence at Mather AFB,
California. The school evolved over the years to embrace the
broad aspects of EW, providing training to both Marines and Air
In the early fifties, the Strategic Air Command (SAC)
organized the 2nd Bomber Wing into an ECM unit for the purpose of
developing the best tactics and techniques for employment of
existing ECM equipment. The 376th Bomb Wing, later augmented by
the 301st Bomb Wing provided SAC with a force of over ninety
specially equipped B-47 EW aircraft for both testing and combat.
In the latter stages of the Korean War, TB-25Js jammed Anti-
Aircraft Artillery (AAA) radars while B-26 bombers sought out and
destroyed the AAA batteries. These actions were later said to
have kept US air losses from tripling in two years. (14:54)
Throughout the fifties and sixties EW took on a much more
important role as the Soviet threat continued to grow. Great
strides in technology occurred as a result of the arms and space
race. Radar guided Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) and air-to-air
missiles presented a new threat to air power. The means to
counter these new threats became essential to the survival of
During the early stages of the Vietnam War, the Navy used the
AD-5Q (the "Queer Spad") and the EKA-3B Skywarrier as its EW
aircraft. The Marine Corps developed the first tactical EW jet:
the EF-10B. Because of the increasing density of the electronic
combat environment, military leaders realized that most strike
aircraft could not carry all the ECM equipment they needed and
still carry a credible bomb load. This led to the realization
that the military needed a dedicated tactical EW aircraft. The
Air Force developed the first dedicated EW aircraft: the EB-66.
In October 1966, the Marine Corps acquired the EA-6A and it first
saw combat in Vietnam in 1967. The EA-6A performed admirably in
combat, so well in fact that it severely clouded the issue of
whether the Navy needed its proposed version of a tactical EW
dedicated aircraft. Navy and Marine Corps leaders eventually
teamed up to develop the first fully integrated tactical EW
dedicated aircraft: the EA-6B. The EA-6A is the forefather of
the EA-6B; the EA-6B is the forefather of the Air Force's
tactical EW aircraft, the EF-111A.
With a short history of EW provided, we will now focus in on
the US's two tactical EW aircraft: the EA-6B and the EF-111A. We
will take a look at the history and capabilities of each
Grumman won the development contract for the EA-6B, commonly
referred to as the "Prowler", in the fall of 1966; the EA-6B flew
for the first time on 25 May 1968. The Navy accepted the first
of twelve production aircraft in January 1971. The last of 164
production aircraft arrived at NAS Whidbey Island in 1991.
(6:418-419) The Navy currently maintains fifteen EA-6B
squadrons, including two reserve squadrons. The Marine Corps
first received the EA-6B in September 1977 and currently
maintains four squadrons for a total of twenty-four aircraft.
There are a total of 130 EA-6Bs currently in the Navy and Marine
Corps. (5) The EA-6B has undergone numerous upgrades and
modifications to improve its capabilities. The four upgrades
range from the standard version to the current version: the
Improved Capabilities 2 (ICAP 2).
In January 1975, Grumman won the development contract to
convert the F-111A to the EF-111A. The first EF-111A, also
called the "Raven", flew its initial flight on 15 December 1975.
Full scale conversion of forty-two EF-111As began in January
1983. The Air Force currently maintains two EF-111A squadrons.
The 390th Electronic Combat Squadron became operational with the
EF-111A in December 1983. The first EF-111A assigned to the 42nd
Electronic Combat Squadron arrived in February 1984. (7:419)
Currently the USAF maintains forty EF-111As. The EF-111A has
undergone four upgrades to improve its capabilities.
The EA-6B Prowler carries a crew of four: one pilot and three
Electronic Countermeasures Officers (ECMO). The EA-6B's maximum
speed is 530 knots and has an endurance of almost three hours in
a combat configuration. The EA-6B uses the AN/ALQ-99 Tactical
Jamming System (TJS). This system is the most sophisticated
airborne TJS in the world today. (6:418-419) The AN/ALQ-99 TJS
is capable of conducting both ECM and ESM missions.
A digital tape recording system enables the ECMO to record all
electronic emission data during a flight, enabling the
construction and analysis of the EOB by intelligence personnel.
Analysis of the electronic data, on the digital tapes, by the
Tactical Electronic Reconnaissance Processing and Evaluating
System (TERPES) is a unique capability that, at present, only the
Marine Corps possesses. TERPES is tied into the global
intelligence network and provides the warfighter with a near real
time intelligence capability. For computerized mission planning,
both the Navy and the Marine Corps use the Tactical EA-6B Mission
Planning System (TEAMS). The mission planning data is
downloaded, from TEAMS, to a digital tape and then uploaded into
the EA-6B in minutes. This same digital tape records the
electronic data for post flight mission analysis. The Prowler is
capable of carrying five external jamming pods with two
transmitters each for a total of ten jammers. The EA-6B can also
launch the High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) and routinely
deploys aboard aircraft carriers.
The EF-111A carries a crew of two: a pilot and an Electronic
Warfare Officer (EWO). The Raven's maximum speed is 1,196 knots
and has an endurance in excess of four hours. The Raven uses the
AN/ALQ-99E TJS, a modified version of the Prowler's TJS to
perform its ECM and ESM missions. (7:419) The AN/ALQ-99E
possesses critical deficiencies when compared to the Prowler's
AN/ALQ-99 system but due to the unclassified nature of this
paper, these differences cannot be delineated. The EF-111A
currently possesses no capability for computerized mission
planning nor can electronic data be recorded for post flight
mission analysis. The Raven carries a maximum of ten jammer
transmitters. The EF-111A is not carrier capable.
PERFFORMANCE DURING THE GULF WAR
The Gulf War provided the US military an opportunity to battle
test many weapon systems, to include the EA-6B and the EF-111A.
Although EN effectiveness is sometimes difficult to assess, the
Raven and the Prowler proved themselves worthy of great respect.
Numerous post war debriefs stated that the EA-6B and the EF-111A
performed superbly and that we needed more of them.
The EA-6B proved so essential that the EA-6B became a go/no-go
criterion for many strikes. (2) Coalition air forces
consistently asked for the EA-6B by name. Twelve Marine Corps
Prowlers from Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron Two
(VMAQ-2) deployed to Southwest Asia (SWA). A Prowler from VMAQ-2
remained on station twenty-four hours a day during Operation
Desert Storm. VMAQ-2 flew a total of 516 sorties, flying 1,622
hours. The Marines from VMAQ-2 fired twelve HARMs. No combat
air losses, from radar guided SAMs, occurred when supported by
Navy EA-6Bs experienced similar success as the Marine
Prowlers. Twenty-seven Navy EA-6Bs, embarked on six aircraft
carriers, flew 1,107 sorties for a total of 2,978 hours during
the Gulf War. The Navy used the HARM capabilities of the EA-6B
to a greater extent than the Marine Corps. Navy EA-6Bs performed
Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) missions, both jamming
and shooting HARM at Iraqi radars. Navy Prowlers shot 138 HARMs,
mostly during the early days of the war. No EA-6Bs were lost
during Operation Desert Storm. (4:687)
A total of twenty-four EF-111As conducted combat operations
out of two bases in SWA. (4:106,108) According to Air Force
Component, Central Command, the EF-111A flew 917 sorties
accumulating 4,564 flight hours during the Gulf War. EF-111As
enjoyed much the same success as did the EA-6Bs except for their
inability to shoot HARM. The Air Force lost one EF-111A during
Desert Storm, but it is unclear as to whether this loss was due
to enemy action.
The combination of ECM, HARM, and bombing strikes had a
dramatic affect on Iraqi air defenses. The Iraqi early warning,
SAM, and AAA radars activity dropped 88% in the first three days
of the war and stayed there the rest of the war. (4:150) Radars
stayed on only short periods of time and immediately went down as
soon as ECM aircraft started jamming. Most radar guided missiles
were either launched without guidance or with insufficient
tracking time to effect a kill on coalition aircraft. The
successful use of EW greatly contributed to the low loss of
aircraft and airmen.
We must not learn the wrong lessons from the Gulf War when it
comes to EW. The Iraqis did not employ the full range of threat
systems available to third world countries, and they did not
employ those that they had effectively. We can expect to
encounter a more sophisticated and effectively used air defense
system in future conflicts. With Russia hard pressed
economically, more of its advanced technology weapons will be
sold to obtain hard currency. Therefore, we must continue to
develop systems that will counter these threats.
For a number of reasons, two different types of tactical EW
aircraft continue to evolve creating a problem that needs to be
addressed and solved by military leaders before it is addressed
by others, who may not understand the problem as clearly. The
Air Force continues to develop the EF-111A while the Navy/Marine
Corps continues to develop the EA-6B. The US military should
eliminate the EF-111A and replace it with the EA-6B. Examples of
the problem will enable the reader to better understand why a
solution is needed.
The duplication of assets performing the same mission presents
many problems. First, the duplication increases overall costs.
Procuring two types of aircraft raises the unit cost per
aircraft. The ALQ-99 TJS is common to both aircraft. However,
the significant differences in airframes require a separate
program development and management system.
The duplication causes a second problem: the logistic support
system required to maintain two different aircraft is
significantly greater than that of maintaining one system. Both
aircraft are derivatives of other aircraft: the EA-6B, a
derivative of the A-6, and the EF-111, a derivative of the
F-111A. While there is some commonality of parts among the
derivatives, a number of components are EA-6B and
EF-111A-specific. Included in the costs to support the two
aircraft are increased maintenance-worker training and increased
publication production costs. These two costs alone require a
significant increase in the logistic support system.
Finally, unity of effort is impaired due to separate research
and follow-on development programs required to upgrade and
improve capabilities. The difference in airframes and user
requirements requires two separate acquisition and research fund
pipelines, which in turn increase costs. These two pipelines
inevitably led to and will continue to lead to disparities in
capabilities between the two aircraft.
The solution to this problem is simple: eliminate the EF-111A
and replace it with the EA-6B. This would solve many problems.
First, this would cut aircraft procurement costs. The EF-111A
Systems Improvement Program (SIP) will upgrade the Raven at a
cost of approximately 431 million dollars. The scheduled
conversion of 102 of the 130 EA-6Bs to EA-6B ADVCAPs will cost
approximately 750 million dollars. The conversion of an
additional twenty-eight EA-6Bs to EA-6B ADVCAPs, along with the
purchase of an additional twelve production EA-6B ADVCAPs would
significantly lower the EA-6B's unit cost per aircraft for both
the conversion and production aircraft while meeting both the
Navy/Marine Corps and the Air Force EW requirements. The oldest
EA-6B airframe is not scheduled for retirement until 2015. (5)
The EA-6B program is a long term plan, over twenty years, that
would allow for the phasing in of follow on aircraft in a timely
Second, the elimination of the EF-111A would allow for the
streamlining of two logistic support systems into one system.
This would reduce the amount of personnel, publication, and
maintenance-worker training required. Reduced support costs,
with only one logistic system, are also realized. Intermediate
Maintenance Level repair facilities are available to support Air
Force needs due to the reduction in aircraft carriers and Navy
EA-6B squadrons. Finally, reducing two separate research and
acquisition fund pipelines not only allows for a reduction in
costs, but it also enables our scientific community to focus on
one product for both military services. The net result is
reduced military costs and state of the art capabilities for the
Using the EA-6B as the tactical EW aircraft for the US
military enhances the US's warfighting capabilities. The EA-6B
is a much more capable aircraft. With the EA-6B ADVCAP coming on
line, in 1996, the gap in capabilities between the EA-6B and the
EF-111A will widen appreciably.
The EA-6B ADVCAP program is a three phase program currently
under full scale development. The first phase, the Receiver
Processor Group (RPG), is complete. This phase saw a complete
upgrade to the AN/ALQ-99 TJS. The new system will enable the
Prowler to detect and jam emitters in bands one through ten. The
AN/ALQ-149 will allow the Prowler to jam radio communications.
The jammer subsystem will use the digitized Universal Exciter
Upgrade (UEU). The UEU will be compatible with both the
communication and radar jammers, covering the extended bandwidth
brought by the AN/ALQ-149. (1:49-50)
The second phase, the Vehicle Enhancement Program, will
upgrade the airframe itself. Included in this is a digital
flight control system, maneuvering flaps and slats, and new
engines to increase performance, safety, and flight handling
characteristics. The addition of two external store stations
will enable the Prowler to carry an additional two jamming pods
or two HARMs. This phase is currently undergoing flight testing.
The third phase, the Avionics Improvement Program, will
provide the aircrew with modern digital flight instrumentation
and cockpit layout improvements. This phase is scheduled to
begin flight testing in June 1993. Full scale production is
scheduled to begin with initial delivery slated for 1996. (5)
The EA-6B ADVCAP will continue to require four aircrew positions,
vice two for the EF-111A, enabling the EA-6B to handle a larger
and more complex number of missions simultaneously. This is a
comprehensive package that will dramatically improve the EW and
safety characteristics of the EA-6B while economically using
existing airframes. The EA-6B ADVCAP program will meet the EW
challenges of the early twenty-first century.
The EF-111A is currently undergoing the SIP upgrade. One
aircraft is under full scale development. This upgrade will
provide improvements to the AN/ALQ-99E system but will fall far
short of the capabilities of the EA-6B ADVCAP program. There
will still be no communication jamming capability and the radar
jamming capability will fall well short of the Prowler's UEU
jammer subsystem. A tape recording and computerized mission
planning interface capability is planned. The SIP program should
meet the Air Force's EW needs through the nineties. (1:50)
The EA-6B ADVCAP is clearly the best tactical EW aircraft ever
developed. The superior EW, HARM, and carrier capabilities sets
the EA-6B well above the EF-111A. The Raven's SIP program will
bring its EW capabilities almost up to the current EA-6B ICAP-2.
(15) Continued development of the EF-111A will leave the US Air
Force with a twentieth century technology aircraft in the
twenty-first century. In this day of drastic military cuts
further development of the EF-111A puts the EA-6B ADVCAP program
at greater risk and underscores the crux of the problem: there
are too many different types of tactical EW aircraft in the US
The US military operates and will continue to operate in a
joint environment. Interoperability will be a critical issue.
The EA-6B ADVCAP will enhance interoperability in a number of
ways. First, all military forces will be familiar with the EA-6B
ADVCAP. Second, planning and executing missions will be easier
because everyone will understand the EA-6B ADVCAP's capabilities
and how to employ it. Finally, the biggest benefit is that
combat aircrew will be supported by the best tactical EW platform
in the world. The EA-6B ADVCAP will continue to excel in the two
most important areas: the survivability of aircrew and their
In these days of diminishing budgets, the US military must
operate as efficiently as possible. The US military must
constantly look for ways to reduce duplication of efforts in
order to save money. Developing and procuring the most capable
weapon system is in the best interest of the US military. The
EA-6B ADVCAP is the most capable weapon system and provides the
US with a "win-win" situation: the best tactical EW aircraft at
an overall lower cost. Military leaders must identify our
critical requirements to operate as an effective fighting force
and take the appropriate action to ensure we do what is best for
America. We, the warfighters, know our capabilities best and we
must take the lead on initiatives that may affect our warfighting
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