Electronic Warfare:

Comprehensive Strategy Needed for Suppressing Enemy Air Defenses

GAO-01-28: Published: Jan 3, 2001. Publicly Released: Jan 3, 2001.

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To suppress enemy air defenses, U.S. armed forces use specialized aircraft designed to neutralize, destroy, or temporarily degrade enemy air defense systems through either physical attack or electronic warfare. Concerns have been raised that the Air Force's decision to retire EF-111 and F-4G suppression aircraft, combined with a growing threat from increasingly sophisticated enemy air defenses, has created a gap between the services' suppression capabilities and their needs. GAO (1) examined the steps that the military has taken since 1996 to improve its ability to suppress enemy air defenses and (2) evaluated the services' plans to eliminate any gap between their suppression capabilities and needs. GAO found that the services have improved their suppression capabilities, such as increasing the size of their fleets of F-16CJ and EA-6B suppression aircraft, improving the electronic warfare and missile systems on these aircraft, studying cost-effective alternatives for suppression in the future, and reviewing electronic warfare programs to determine if these programs are adequately managed, prioritized, and funded. However, GAO also found that current suppression capabilities are not adequate and that no comprehensive, cross-service strategy exists for achieving the suppression mission.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Defense did not concur with the recommendation at the time of this report, but 2 years later did agree. The Undersecretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) restructured his staff to include an Assistant Director of Systems Integration for Electronic Warfare. This directorate will oversee an integrated product team that will develop and monitor a comprehensive roadmap for electronic warfare systems which includes suppression of enemy air defenses. The team will coordinate requirements with services and Joint Staff to develop a requirements/capabilities architecture for the electronic warfare mission.

    Recommendation: To significantly increase the likelihood that needed actions are taken to improve the ability of U.S. aircraft to suppress enemy air defenses, the Secretary of Defense should designate a coordinating entity, including officials from each of the services, to develop a comprehensive, cross-service strategy for closing the gap between the services' suppression capabilities and their needs, and to evaluate progress toward achieving suppression objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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