The USAF and Electronic Warfare: Implications for Australia

By Australian Defence Business Review

The outcomes from the United States Air Force 2019 Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) being held at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada this week are likely to have far reaching consequences for Australia’s future electronic warfare capability.

The USAF will brief the findings from a year-long study into EW, the third of a series of Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team (ECCT) activities designed to provide the US Defense Department with a roadmap to counter emerging and increasingly sophisticated global threats, many of which exist in the Indo-Pacific region.

The first two ECCT studies focused on air superiority and multi-domain command and control with the EW study aimed at building a better understanding of where and how to attack, deny and dominate within the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) according to General Stephen “Seve” Wilson, the USAF Vice Chief of Staff at the Pentagon.

EW has traditionally been a topic heavily influenced by technology; however, the EW ECCT will recognise the rapidly growing significance of operations in an increasingly congested and contested EMS and highlight the need for a new approach across both the platforms and EW enabling capabilities.

Significantly, the USAF is expected to appoint an “EW champion” to lead and co-ordinate the transformation across the organisation.

ADBR understands the ECCT established a series of working groups to look at the gaps, costs, risks, performance and integration aspects of platform-level EW technologies, system and sub-system technologies, and future EW concepts and capabilities. It is unclear at this stage the extent to which cyber was included in the study, however, it is certainly expected to include space.

While the classified findings will be briefed this month at the WEPTAC, it is expected that a publicly releasable report will be published later this year. Given USAF reliance on the EMS to enable sensors, weapons and data links, the ECCT is likely to promote a highly networked approach with an increased emphasis on non-materiel capability such as doctrine, training and integration into a broader Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations (JEMSO) concept.

The ECCT study is also likely to recommend an increased electronic attack capability, which could involve upgrades to the F-15 and F-16. This will impact the USAF’s future approach to JEMSO and interoperability with allies, with the RAAF needing to ensure ongoing integration with its EA-18G Growler and, of course, F-35A operations.

The implications for the ADF and defence industry are highly significant, not least in the opportunities for co-operative development or export of EW systems and sub-systems, spectrum awareness and decision support tools, testing, experimentation, and training.

2019 is shaping up to be a big year for EW with the US DoD expected to make significant progress on the back of the EW ECCT study. A newly appointed USAF officer in charge of the transformation will raise the profile of EW from being a specialist technology area to a central element of USAF multi-domain operations.

This all bodes well for Australia.

This article was published by our partner Australian Defence Business Review on January 14, 2019.

The featured photo shows A35-010 and A35-009, F-35A Joint Strike Fighter fly in formation with F/A-18 Hornets.

The Minister for Defence, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, accompanied by the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, His Excellency General Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (retd), Governor of NSW, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (retd), Minister for Defence Industry, the Honourable Steven Ciobo, MP, Assistant Minister for Defence, Senator the Honourable David Fawcett, Shadow Minister for Defence, The Honourable Richard Marles MP, Chief of Defence Force, General Angus Campbell AO DSC, and Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Gavin Davies, AO, CSC welcomed Australia’s first two F-35A aircraft into Australia on 10 December 2018.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) was proud to showcase the first two F35A Joint Strike Fighter aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force Fleet. Royal Australian Air Force pilots and maintenance personnel are embedded within United States Air Force units and partnering with Lockheed Martin in preparation for the introduction of Australia’s first fifth-generation air combat capability.

The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter is the most advanced, affordable fifth generation multi-role stealth fighter to meet Australia’s need to defeat emerging threats well into the future. The F-35A is truly next-generation due to its stealth capability, advanced sensors, data fusion and its ability to share information with other aircraft, Army units and Navy ships. The Australian Government has approved the purchase of 72 F-35A aircraft to replace F/A18A/B Hornets. The F-35A aircraft will be operated by the Air Force’s Number 3 Squadron, part of the Air Combat Group at RAAF Base Williamtown.