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Electronic warfare changes sought

Electronic warfare is the bread and butter at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, but it doesn’t enjoy such a high priority across the military.

That’s why U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and his electronic warfare group in Congress are working to give such warfare higher visibility in the Pentagon.

As the latest fodder to support his arguments, Larsen is using a newly released report titled “Why Electronic Warfare Matters,” produced by the AOC, or Association of Old Crows, which describes itself as “a nonprofit international professional association engaged in the science and practice of electronic warfare,” and related areas.

The AOC report cites successes of electronic warfare in the present wars and calls for improving the program throughout the military.

Whidbey’s Prowler community has been very active in Iraq and Afghanistan. Larsen said what they do is classified, but they’ve contributed significantly to the reduction in the enemy’s success using RCIEDs, or radio controlled improvised explosive devices.

The AOC report states that insurgents initially inflicted “the vast majority of U.S. casualties” by setting off explosives through the use of electronic triggering mechanisms, such as cell phones, garage door openers and car key fobs.

In April 2006, the report states, the U.S. began applying electronic warfare to disable these devices. “Within six months through today, RCIED attacks and casualties have dropped significantly ... saving hundreds of lives.” The report specifically credit the Navy for saving many of those lives.

Larsen said combatting IED’s is “just a sliver” of the role of electronic warfare in the modern era, which is an expanding part of warfare.

“We’re going to have an IED fight on our hands long into the future no matter where we are,” Larsen told the Whidbey News-Times. “The Navy has played every role in fighting IED’s; it’s more appropriate for the Army and Marines.”

Navy gets the job done

The Navy isn’t always doing the job from the relative comfort of a Prowler cockpit. “The Prowler community is proudly serving its country in Iraq and Afghanistan not necessarily in the air but on the ground,” Larsen said. “Get them back in their cockpits, put the Marines and Army on the ground.”

The Navy takes the lead in such warfare at present because it does it best, Larsen said. What is needed is a more collaborative effort among the services, including the Air Force’s new Cyber Command, and starting in the Pentagon. The Navy will have fewer electronics warfare personnel when the FA/18G Growler replaces the Prowler, which is one reason the others services have to do more.

The first goal is an electronic warfare office working under the Secretary of Defense, so one person would be responsible for planning, another for services, and so forth. Right now, Larsen said, “leadership is scattered, you need a bar graph on where they’re putting their efforts on electronic warfare.”

The Pentagon office is the top recommendation of the succinct, eight page AOC report. Another proposed leadership change is to designate a flag officer in each service with broad management and oversight of electronic warfare programs.

Investing more in electronic warfare is also important, according to the report. It recommends developing a electronic warfare “critical technologies list,” that identifies technology needs over the next 10 to 15 years. That list should be provided to Congress.

Also recommended is the creation of a joint electronic warfare modernization program by coordinating service programs and injecting more money for the next generation of electronic warfare systems.

Larsen said the Navy, which is “predominant in the electronic warfare community,” has the expertise needed to train the other services so they can handle more of the electronic warfare duties in the future.

According to the AOC, the future of war is electronic, which is why it’s so important to give it “more focus and coordination” in the military. The military has to deal with IED’s and, more dangerously, the growing number of sophisticated anti-ship missiles, among many other threats.

“It’s no exaggeration to say electronic warfare has become the face of combat in the information age,” the report states.

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