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Airborne Electronic Attack

Airborne electronic attack capabilities are key enablers for US military operations ranging from irregular warfare to major combat against potential near-peer adversaries. Irregular warfare is a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant population(s). It favors indirect and asymmetric (dissimilar) approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capacities in order to erode an adversary’s power, influence, and will. Potential near-peer adversaries include countries capable of waging large-scale conventional war on the United States. These nation-states can be characterized as having nearly comparable diplomatic, informational, military, and economic capacity to the United States.

Airborne electronic attack involves the use of aircraft to neutralize, destroy, or temporarily degrade (suppress ) enemy air defense and communications systems, either through destructive or disruptive means. It helps protect aircraft, maritime, and ground forces from a variety of threats. For example, during major combat operations, airborne electronic attack helps prevent other systems, such as fighter jets or naval carriers, from being detected by enemy radars and targeted by missiles.

In irregular warfare environments, it supports ground troops by performing functions such as jamming enemy communications. Weapons designed to counter U.S. airborne electronic attack capabilities are becoming increasingly common and sophisticated. These weapons held by both nation-state and non-state actors—vary from advanced, integrated air defense systems to older surveillance radars that are being upgraded with advanced computers. DOD’s ability to identify department-wide needs and solutions and eliminate potentially unnecessary overlap may have been undermined by a lack of designated, joint leadership charged with overseeing electronic warfare acquisition activities.

DOD has placed an emphasis on increasing airborne electronic attack capacity and capabilities. While the Navy’s NGJ is expected to provide airborne electronic attack capabilities to support all military services in both major combat operations and irregular warfare environments, the other services are also planning to make additional investments in airborne electronic attack systems that are tailored to their specific warfighting roles. The services’ airborne electronic attack plans vary in part because of these roles.

Some aircraft with electronic attack enabled AESA radar may be able to perform some jamming functions in a modified escort role. However, unlike the NGJ, they are not designed to be dedicated jamming systems. In addition, NGJ is to be capable of communications jamming in an irregular warfare type environment, like systems such as CEASAR and Intrepid Tiger II, which were fielded under rapid acquisition authorities and in very limited quantities. Army and Marine Corps officials explained that their systems are a more suitable and economic alternative to the NGJ for these missions. For example, Army officials stated that the systems the Army is investing in, such as CEASAR and Multi-Function Electronic Warfare, would provide the right amount of power for their needs, be more readily available to units, and cost less. According to DOD, these systems also provide additional capacity in an area where there has been significant demand. However, as DOD and the military services continue to invest in new additional airborne electronic attack capabilities, the potential for duplication and overlap to occur increases.

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