Advances in Electronic Warfare Fly under the Public's Radar

By Hennigan, Wj | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), March 20, 2014 | Go to article overview

Advances in Electronic Warfare Fly under the Public's Radar


Hennigan, Wj, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


As the Pentagon moves beyond the relatively low-tech wars in the Middle East and turns its attention to future national security challenges, it has doubled down on sophisticated new radar-jamming devices that aim to render adversaries' air defenses useless.

Although the U.S. faced limited resistance in the skies above Iraq and Afghanistan, that would not be the case in Asia, where the Obama administration plans to shift its diplomatic focus and strengthen its defense strategy in the coming decade.

China and North Korea, for example, have quietly invested in advanced sophisticated radar systems, surface-to-air missile batteries, and power-projection capabilities.So when the Pentagon revealed its fiscal 2015 budget proposal last week, much of the attention was given to a boost in spending on drones and cybersecurity. Less heralded, but vital to U.S. strategic success, experts say, was the high-dollar investment in radar-jamming technology and other electronic warfare.

Much of this shadowy world is top secret, but the military's goal is to have complete control over the range of wireless frequencies at the heart of all aspects of war: satellites, radio and radar.

Jammers, for instance, are designed to identify enemy radar installations, then spew radio waves and beams of electromagnetic noise to electronically disable and destroy them. Though the technology does not result in the sort of fiery blasts produced by heat-seeking missiles or laser-guided bombs, the effect is the same.

"We are so used to dominating at sea and in the air, we don't spend anywhere near the money we should on enablers like electronic warfare and deception and other things like that," acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine H. Fox said this month. "That can make a huge difference. And in this budget environment, we can actually afford things like that."

The capabilities of jamming technology are shrouded in secrecy to stay ahead of adversaries.

What is known is that the equipment is strategic and has been used with great success in recent years. The U.S. Navy used EA-18 Growler jets in 2011 to jam Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi's ground radar, enabling NATO fighters and bombers to strike tanks, communication depots and other targets with complete freedom. The jet's "EA" stands for "electronic attack."

The Growlers look like imposing fighters armed to the hilt with big bombs slung under their wings. That's because the plane is a modified version of the F/A-18 Super Hornet. …

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