An increasingly vocal group of US lawmakers who champion electronic warfare
(EW) programmes have taken up the cause of an endangered US Air Force plan
to modify Boeing B-52 bombers with a new stand-off jammer pod.
The Electronic Warfare Working Group, founded by Pennsylvania Representative
Joseph Pitts, says it is "alarming to hear" that the air force is thinking
about cancelling the B-52 Stand-Off Jammer System (SOJS) programme. A new
issue brief signed by Pitts argues that such a move risks repeating a 1997
mistake when the USAF withdrew from the EW mission by retiring its last
General Dynamics EF-111 jammers. That decision left the military completely
dependent on the US Navy's ageing Northrop EA-6B Prowlers for all stand-off
In the late 1990s, the USAF had expected to transition to a virtually
all-stealth fighter fleet, reducing the need for stand-off jammers. "By now
most experts will admit that retirement of the F-111 had a significantly
negative impact on an electronic attack mission today that is highly
valued," says Pitts. "What should concern decision-makers in the defence
community today, especially Congress, is that the air force may be repeating
Pitts cites the evolving threat of integrated air defence systems being
designed by China and Iran, which will have improved mobility and increased
detection range and be more difficult to defeat using the US military's
current jamming capabilities.
Those systems will be in place as early as 2010, yet the USAF's current
fielding strategy for the first B-52 SOJS unit calls for delivery in 2012.
With the threat of termination, it is more likely that the B-52 jammer will
only be ready after 2014, if at all, says Pitts.
An air force plan to award a contract worth more than $250 million to launch
a pre-development phase for the B-52 jammer pod has been delayed until at
least the end of January.
The Department of Defense had expected to place the award last October, but
has put an approval on hold until next year's budget plan is concluded. The
Defense Acquisition Board has scheduled an 18 January meeting to decide
whether to go forward with the SOJS programme, which is being contested by a
Boeing/BAE Systems team and Northrop.
The USAF's decision will also have a spill-over effect on the other US
services. The US Marine Corps is now assessing how to replace its EA-6Bs and
will complete an initial study into an electronic-attack variant of the
Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter by June.
The USN, meanwhile, has based its plan of buying up to 90 Boeing EA-18G
Growlers - fewer than 60 of which are now funded - on the assumption that
the USAF's B-52 SOJS will join the fleet after 2012.