Electronic Warfare:

Comprehensive Strategy Still Needed for Suppressing Enemy Air Defenses

GAO-03-51: Published: Nov 25, 2002. Publicly Released: Nov 25, 2002.

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U.S. military aircraft are often at great risk from enemy air defenses, and the services use specialized aircraft to neutralize or destroy them. In January 2001, GAO reported that a gap existed between the services' suppression capabilities and their needs and recommended that a comprehensive strategy was needed to fix the situation. In response to GAO's report, DOD emphasized that a major study underway at the time would provide the basis for a Department-wide strategy and lead to a balanced set of acquisition programs between the services. This report updates our previous work and assesses actions that DOD has taken to improve its suppression capabilities.

The Department of Defense continues to face a gap between its need to suppress enemy air defenses and its capabilities to do so, despite some progress in upgrading its capabilities. There are not enough existing suppression aircraft to meet overall requirements, some aircraft are experiencing wing and engine problems, and improvements are needed to counter evolving threats. DOD's primary suppression aircraft, the EA-6B, is also reaching the end of its life cycle and a replacement is needed as early as 2009. Furthermore, some aircraft self-protection equipment, which provide additional suppression capabilities, have also been found to be unreliable. DOD has not yet developed an integrated, comprehensive approach to the U.S. air defense suppression mission but has recently completed an Analysis of Alternatives that presented the services with 27 options for replacing the aging EA-6B. The services formed a coordinating group to assess the options, and in June 2002 presented service-specific proposals to the Office of the Secretary of Defense for analysis and consideration in the 2004 budget. However, the Analysis of Alternatives did not provide the basis for a comprehensive strategy to address the department's overall suppression needs. It only analyzed the airborne electronic attack portion of the mission and did not address needed improvements in aircraft self-protection systems or the technical and funding challenges of other service programs such as the Navy's and Air Force's air-launched decoy programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD to ensure a continuing mechanism for coordination systems acquisition with evolving strategies, the Under Secretary of Defense (AT&L) is restructuring elements of his staff which include an Assistant Director of Systems Integration for Electronic Warfare, to oversee an Integrated Product Team process to formulate comprehensive systems-of-systems architectures across all electronic warfare mission areas, including the area of defense suppression. The Assistant Director will work closely with the Counter Air Defense Joint Requirements Coordination Oversight Group, which the Services have already formed, to ensure effective harmonization of defense suppression strategies and requirements.

    Recommendation: To close the gap between enemy air defense suppression needs and capabilities, the Secretary of Defense should establish a coordinating entity.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD the electronic roadmap did not receive consensus support during final coordination. Efforts remain underway to resolve issues by key stakeholders and more aggressive actions are being taken to address the needed analysis and guidance for acquiring EW systems. Recommendations contained in the draft EW Roadmap that were fully supported within the department are being implemented. Other elements need additional updates before they are implemented. To facilitate the work, the VCJCS has issued a directive to USSTRATCOM to complete a time-urgent Capability Based Assessment. Renewed emphasis will function as the formulation and coordination venue for development of necessary organizational or materiel change recommendations for the EW Roadmap. Once it is updated a copy will be provided.

    Recommendation: To close the gap between enemy air defense suppression needs and capabilities, the Secretary of Defense should establish a joint comprehensive strategy to address the gaps that need to be filled in the enemy air defense suppression mission. The strategy should provide the means to identify and prioritize promising technologies, determine the funding, time frames, and responsibilities needed to develop and acquire systems, and establish evaluation mechanisms to track progress in achieving objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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