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Advanced Electronic Attack (AEA) Analysis of Alternatives

The EA-18 was one of the platforms under consideration in a Department of Defense analysis of alternatives to replace the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft. The US Navy had an operational need to begin replacing the Prowler by 2008. Prowlers will be serving the nation through 2015 and the aircraft to follow it will fly for decades. They all will have Increased Capability III [ICAP III] as their electronic attack weapon. ICAP III capability forms the baseline for the Department of Defense's (DoD) follow-on airborne electronic attack system of systems. Northrop Grumman is the ICAP III prime contractor. Northrop Grumman's Improved Capability III radar receiver system represents a significantly reduced risk approach over other unproven platforms and systems.

In late 2000 the study for the follow-on to the EA-6B Prowler concluded, and the Navy began to move from concept to development. At that point each of the Naval Aviation communities was pursuing a "sundown" plan for legacy aircraft: P-3 Orion to Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA); SH-60B/F/H Seahawk to SH-60R and MH-60S; F-14, F/A-18A/B/C/D and S-3B Viking to F/A-18E/F and, later, Joint Strike Fighter; and EA-6B to the Airborne Electronic Attack aircraft.

The 22-month Joint Airborne Electronic Attack Analysis of Alternatives was initiated following the Kosovo campaign. The AEA Analysis of Alternatives, involving all the services, was begun in January 2000, but continued into 2002. The AEA AoA's purpose was to provide information on cost-effective options to the Department of Defense (DoD) in support of its process of examining potential new acquisition programs to initially augment and eventually replace the EA-6B Prowler force beginning in 2010. The analysis focused on Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) capability for the collective air superiority needs of the Services in suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) during the 2010-2030 timeframe.

The US Navy led the joint team that conducted a concept exploration phase Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) to evaluate follow-on options to the Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) capabilities currently provided by the EA-6B Prowler. Mission functions include radar jamming, communications jamming, electronic surveillance measures (ESM), and electronic countermeasures (ECM). Options to be evaluated to accomplish the AEA mission for all of the Department of Defense, include manned aircraft, unmanned aircraft and new technologies.

The AEA AoA study team operated under specific guidance provided by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and is governed by acquisition regulations such as DoD Regulation 5000.2 and SECNAVINST 5000.2B. An Executive Steering Group, composed of requirements and acquisition leaders from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, provides oversight of the study team. The study used extensive modeling and simulation capabilities to provide an analytical tool for a potential major defense acquisition program(s) Milestone I/II decision(s) in FY02.

The Government was interested in data from industry for use in the analysis to include concept of operations, technology applications, and realistic cost data which will result in a realistic assessment of alternatives for future AEA capability. Industry is encouraged to include innovative and cutting edge solutions for use in the analysis. Participation in the study was strictly voluntary, no funding or reimbursement is offered or implied. Furthermore, participation in this study should not be construed as an obligation or commitment on the part of the Government no claim for current or future contracts or funding for this requirement is authorized or implied.

Integrated Product Teams (IPT) conducted an Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) to define operational requirements that address the DoD's AEA needs. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) can be utilized in the future for AEA. UAV Electronic Warfare (EW) payloads and smart weapons could help in this area as well. While much has already been written concerning UAVs, few resources exist that discuss the feasibility of UAV programs in the realm of EW. Even fewer resources discuss how these unmanned platforms must be linked in the future to conduct network-centric warfare.

The study considered six broad alternatives; each was generic, in that several vehicle or system options could provide the defined capability. Total ownership costs, however, were estimated for specific weapons systems, with resulting costs of sub-options presented as a range for each alternative.

The study identified around a dozen different platforms that could play host to the system, including existing fighters such as the Boeing F-15E, F/A-18F and Lockheed Martin F- 16C/D, as well as new develop ments like the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Lockheed Martin/Boeing F- 22. Each platform was examined not just in terms of the development or production costs, but life costs over a 30 year period.

The classified 2,000-page AEA AOA was completed 15 December 2001, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) reviewed its findings. It identified 27 options to replace the EA-6B Prowler. Costs and solutions varied greatly, from buying a fleet of business jets with a total ownership cost of $26 billion to fielding a combination of jammer-equipped F/A-18 and F-22 fighters and B-52 bombers with a price tag of $82 billion. The cheapest option, costing about $20 billion, would be based on the Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle, used in conjunction with a smaller system such as a loitering drone or missile that could directly attack enemy radars and sensors. The study also concluded there might not be any significant breakthroughs in electronic warfare before the Navy begins replacing its fleet of Prowlers in 2010.

The Services had until June 2002 to determine which direction they will go to meet electronic warfare requirements as they relate to replacing the capability and function of the Prowler. The Department of Defense had planned to announce the results of the analysis of alternatives for the AEA mission by the end of 2001. The USMC would prefer to wait for an EW variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, if that project survives, and the USAF does not require a dedicated SEAD platform.

Unconvinced that a joint U.S. Navy and Air Force study on replacing EA -6B electronic jamming planes considered enough options, Gen. John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, sent it back to his staff for further review. In a 15 April 2002 interview, Jumper said he was not satisfied with the results of the 22-month Airborne Electronic Attack Analysis of Alternatives (AEA AOA) because it focused more on replacing airplanes than on how to perform the mission. "Electronic warfare conjures up notions of pods that jam things and bash electrons," Jumper said. "Is that a mission? What are we trying to do? "What we are trying to do is penetrate warheads to targets - manned or unmanned. That's the objective of electronic warfare," he said. Jumper acknowledged that buying a new plane may be part of the solution, but he questioned whether the study considered the entire spectrum of options. "I am not satisfied that our analysis of alternatives on electronic Warfare has given us the right answer," he said. Instead, Jumper suggests the study should have pondered more ways to defeat threats like enemy surface-to-air missiles. "Well, you could take down the [enemy air defense] network, defend yourself with tow decoys [pulled behind an aircraft]. Certainly, jamming pods might be a piece of that," he said. "But you could probably [find] four or five ways that could come together to get this job done." The AEA AOA should have taken an effects-based approach, Jumper said. For example, rather than confront a threat head-on, it may be better to knock out something the threat depends on, such as its power source or communications links. "In the past, the main way was jamming," Jumper said. "There is a good part of the [electronic warfare] community that is a little bit angry with me, because I am not willing to go out and just give in to buying a bigger electron basher."

Jumper's stance on electronic warfare differed sharply from that of his predecessor, Gen. Michael Ryan. In November 2000, Ryan, then chief of staff of the Air Force, released a position statement on electronic warfare that took a completely different stance, calling for an organic system to support the service's Air Expeditionary Forces (AEFs).

The Navy had no procurement budget for Advanced Electronic Attack (AEA) aircraft in the February 2002 budget plans, but the 22 August 2002 draft budget for FY2004 showed four aircraft in FY '06, 12 in FY '07, 16 in FY '08 and 33 in FY '09. The Navy would like to replace the EA-6B with a variant of the Super Hornet, but top Pentagon officials had not made a decision as of August 2002. According to the AEA analysis of alternatives, an Electronic Warfare plan focused on the EA-18, adding new-technology jammer pods, would cost about $40 billion over the life of the program.

Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a former Prowler crew member served as a Navy intelligence officer aboard an EA-6B Prowler in Kosovo and Iraq. The congressman believed that the EA-6BC, a new variant of the Prowler; the F/A-18G, an electronic warfare version of the Super Hornet; or a jammer model of the multirole Joint Strike Fighter would be the best solution to replace the Prowler. An Electronic Warfare plan focused on restarting the EA-6 line and building brand-new EA-6C aircraft with new-technology pods would cost about $34 billion. An AEA version of the Joint Strike Fighter - with both carrier capable and conventional takeoff versions - could be developed and fielded for about $38 billion.

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