GAO-12-342SP: Defense: 2. Electronic Warfare

Defense > 2. Electronic Warfare

Identifying opportunities to consolidate Department of Defense airborne electronic attack programs could reduce overlap in the department’s multiple efforts to develop new capabilities and improve the department’s return on its multibillion-dollar acquisition investments.

Why This Area Is Important

Airborne electronic attack—an electronic warfare capability—involves use of aircraft to neutralize, destroy, or temporarily suppress enemy air defense and communications systems, either through destructive or disruptive means. These capabilities are increasingly important and complex as networked systems, distributed controls, and sophisticated sensors become ubiquitous in military equipment, civilian infrastructure, and commercial networks. These technological developments complicate the Department of Defense’s ability to exercise control over the electromagnetic spectrum, when necessary, to support U.S. military objectives. Aircraft executing airborne electronic attack missions employ a variety of mission systems, such as electronic jamming pods, and weapons, such as antiradiation missiles and air-launched expendable decoys. These aircraft also rely on aircraft self-protection systems and defensive countermeasures for additional protection.

All four military services within the Department of Defense are separately acquiring new airborne electronic attack systems. Department of Defense investments to develop and procure new and updated airborne electronic attack systems are projected to total more than $17.6 billion from fiscal years 2007 through 2016. With the prospect of slowly growing or flat defense budgets for years to come, the department must get better returns on its weapon system investments and find ways to deliver more capability to the warfighter for less than it has in the past.

What GAO Found

GAO’s ongoing review of planned airborne electronic attack systems found that the department is developing multiple systems to provide similar capabilities. Opportunities may exist for consolidating some current service-specific acquisition efforts. As GAO reported in March 2011, service-driven requirements and funding processes continue to hinder integration and efficiency and contribute to unnecessary duplication in addressing warfighter needs. In the airborne electronic attack mission area, systems in development may overlap—at least to some extent—in terms of planned mission tasks. Yet, they are being developed as individual programs by the different services. The table below highlights overlap among four systems being developed to counter irregular warfare[1] threats—one subset of airborne electronic attack. While the host platforms for each system are different, the missions each system performs are similar.

Potential Overlap among Communication Jamming Systems Supporting Ground Forces

System name

Collaborative On-line Reconnaissance Provider Operationally Responsive Attack Link (CORPORAL)

Intrepid Tiger II

Communications Electronic Attack with Surveillance and Reconnaissance (CEASAR)

MQ-9 Reaper Electronic Attack Pod

Service sponsor

Marine Corps

Marine Corps


Air Force

Host platform

RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle

AV-8B fixed wing aircrafta

C-12 fixed wing aircraft

MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle

Mission description

Communications jamming in support of ground forcesb

Communications jamming and surveillance capability in support of ground forces

Denial and disruption of enemy communications systems and improvised explosive devices in support of unit-level ground commanders

Communications and improvised explosive device jamming in support of combatant commander mission needs

Estimated acquisition cost

$54.5 million

$76.8 million

$13.8 millionc

$233.7 million

Source: GAO analysis of Department of Defense data.

aAfter the AV-8B, the Intrepid Tiger II pod will be integrated onto additional aircraft.

bCORPORAL also consists of other technologies that serve broader purposes.

cTotal excludes $26.3 million in funding from the Operations and Maintenance, Army budget account through fiscal year 2013. The Army uses these funds to (1) lease two C-12 aircraft to fly the CEASAR pod and (2) fund aircraft and pod sustainment costs.

According to Department of Defense officials, airborne electronic attack limitations in recent operations, urgent needs of combatant commanders, and the desire to provide ground units with their own locally controlled assets have all contributed to the services’ decisions to develop their own systems to address irregular warfare threats.

Requirements for most of these irregular warfare systems were derived from Department of Defense urgent needs processes—activities aimed at rapidly developing, equipping, and fielding solutions and critical capabilities to the warfighter in a way that is more responsive to urgent warfighter requests than the department’s traditional acquisition procedures. As GAO reported in March 2011, the department’s urgent needs processes often lead to multiple entities responding to requests for similar capabilities, resulting in potential duplication of efforts. As military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down—and the services evaluate whether to transition their current urgent needs program over to the formal weapon system acquisition process—opportunities may exist to better consolidate current program activities, such as the CORPORAL and CEASAR pod systems that are still demonstration programs whose transitions to formal acquisition programs have not yet been determined.

The potential for unnecessary duplication of efforts within the airborne electronic attack area is not limited to irregular warfare systems. Similar issues exist with airborne electronic attack systems designed to counter potential near-peer adversaries.[2] Most notably, both the Air Force and Navy are separately evaluating options for acquiring advanced jamming decoys—the Air Force through an upgrade (referred to as Increment II) to its Miniature Air Launched Decoy-Jammer (MALD-J) program, and the Navy through its planned Airborne Electronic Attack Expendable initiative.

The two services have held discussions with one another about combining efforts toward a joint solution—including a meeting between Navy and Air Force requirements offices and acquisition officials in December 2010—but they have not reached resolution on a common path forward. According to Navy officials, relatively minor design and software modifications to the Air Force’s planned MALD-J Increment II system could produce a system that satisfies both services’ mission requirements. However, Air Force officials stated that accommodating the Navy’s mission requirements within the system would increase program costs and delay planned fielding of the Increment II system, essentially rendering the current program unexecutable. Subsequently, Air Force officials stated that unless MALD-J Increment II, as currently configured, sufficiently meets Navy requirements, they do not expect the Navy to have any formal role in the program. In July 2011, the Air Force suspended MALD-J Increment II because of future funding shortfalls. This pause in the program affords an opportunity for continued dialogue between the two services as to potential benefits and drawbacks to the pursuit of a common acquisition solution.

On the other hand, the services have shown in some instances that they can share information across the different efforts. For example, Marine Corps decisions to reuse jammer technologies from CORPORAL for Intrepid Tiger II have driven significant commonality in hardware and software for these systems, which program officials state has reduced technical challenges and produced cost savings.

Pursuing multiple separate acquisition efforts to develop similar capabilities within the airborne electronic attack mission area can lead to insufficient use of resources and may contribute to other warfighting needs going unfilled. Leveraging resources and acquisition efforts across services can simplify developmental efforts, improve interoperability among systems, and decrease operations and support costs—outcomes that position the department to maximize the returns it gets on its airborne electronic attack investments.

[1]Irregular warfare is defined as a violent struggle among state and nonstate actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant population(s). Irregular warfare favors indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capacities, in order to erode an adversary’s power, influence, and will.

[2]Potential near-peer adversaries include countries capable of waging large scale conventional war on the United States. These nation-states are characterized as having nearly comparable diplomatic, informational, military, and economic capacity to the United States.

Actions Needed

To ensure investments in airborne electronic attack systems are cost-effective and to prevent unnecessary overlap, GAO expects to recommend that the Secretary of Defense

  • review the capabilities provided by the Marine Corps’s Intrepid Tiger II pod and CORPORAL, Army’s CEASAR, and Air Force MQ-9 Reaper Electronic Attack Pod systems and identify opportunities for consolidating these different efforts, as appropriate; and
  • assess Air Force and Navy plans for developing and acquiring new expendable jamming decoys, specifically those services’ MALD-J Increment II and Airborne Electronic Attack Expendable initiatives, to determine if these activities should be merged.

Department of Defense analysis of airborne electronic attack programs—both current and planned—could reduce duplication of similar acquisition initiatives and improve efficiencies. More analysis is needed by the department to determine the potential for cost savings.

How GAO Conducted Its Work

The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from the products listed in the related GAO products section and additional work GAO conducted to be published as a separate product in 2012. GAO reviewed program documentation to identify planned capabilities, technical challenges, and anticipated costs for key systems. GAO also analyzed Department of Defense documents outlining airborne electronic attack-related mission requirements and acquisition needs and reviewed platform-specific capabilities documents, service roadmaps, and budget documents, which together provided insight on the department’s overall strategy for acquiring airborne electronic attack capabilities. GAO conducted interviews with relevant Department of Defense officials responsible for managing airborne electronic attack requirements and programs.

See page 336 of the PDF version of this report (appendix III) for a list of the programs GAO identified that may have similar or overlapping objectives, provide similar services or be fragmented across government missions. Overlap and fragmentation may not necessarily lead to actual duplication, and some degree of overlap and duplication may be justified.

Agency Comments & GAO Contact

GAO provided a draft of this report section to the Department of Defense for review and comment. The department provided technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate. In its comments, the department noted that the Army and Marine Corps have held high-level discussions to collaborate on the CEASAR, Intrepid Tiger II, and CORPORAL programs. According to the department, discussions to share hardware and software technology are ongoing—an arrangement that, if implemented, could result in significant cost avoidance—but talks have not yet yielded a design or set of requirements agreeable to both services. As part of GAO’s routine audit work, GAO will track agency actions to address these expected recommendations and report to Congress.

For additional information about this area, contact Michael J. Sullivan at (202) 512-4841 or

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