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Specialized forces have taken on added importance in the post-Cold War era. These forces contribute to all phases of military operations. Three of their most important missions are electronic warfare and suppression of enemy air defenses, and aerial reconnaissance and surveillance.

Electronic warfare and air defense suppression forces locate and neutralize enemy air defenses. The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps all operate aircraft for these purposes.

Airborne Electronic Warfare Aircraft
(PMAI as of FY 1995)
Support Jammers
(Standoff and Escort)
Rivet Joint / RC-135
(10 A/C -- Air Force)
(24 A/C -- Air Force)
F-4G Wild Weasel [a]
(24 A/C -- Air Force)
(12 A/C -- Navy)
EC-130 Compass Call
(10 A/C -- Air Force)
F-16 HTS [b]
(72 A/C -- Air Force)
(16 A/C -- Navy)
(60 A/C -- Navy/Marine Corps)
F/A-18 HARM [b],[c]
(456 A/C -- Navy/Marine Corps)
(60 A/C -- Navy/Marine Corps)
  EA-6B [b],[c]
(60 A/C -- Navy/Marine Corps)
[a] Retirement of all F-4Gs will be complete by the end of FY 1996.
[b] F/A-18s, EA-6Bs, and F-16s equipped with the HARM Targeting System (HTS) have independent targeting capability similar to that of the F-4G, but with less coverage in both frequency and location. [c] Some aircraft have overlapping capability; the missions noted are secondary.

To ease the transition to the new Joint Force concept, the retirement date for the EF-111 force slipped one year, to FY 1998. Once EF-111s left the inventory, the mission of tactical support jamming for the Air Force was assumed by Navy/Marine Corps EA-6Bs. The Navy will upgrade a total of 120 EA-6Bs (104 PAI) for this purpose, extending the aircraft's service life and updating their mission avionics system. The latter enhancement will include the provision of a new receiver system utilizing lightweight, off-the-shelf products. The upgraded EA-6Bs will provide critical support for joint force operations. The Air Force will supply a number of electronic warfare-trained aircrews to selected Navy squadrons to facilitate such operations.

Under a comprehensive series of studies begun in FY 1994, the Department is assessing the future adequacy of U.S. electronic warfare capabilities. The studies are examining requirements for electronic warfare aircraft, aircraft self-protection and expendable countermeasures, and lethal and nonlethal suppression of enemy air defenses. The compatibility of projected electronic warfare capabilities with low-observable technologies also is being investigated. The first phase of the assessment resulted in the plan to retire EF-111s and replace them with EA-6Bs. Further results of the analyses, expected later this year, will be used to identify capabilities that electronic warfare forces may require in the long term.

Airborne reconnaissance and surveillance systems are a primary source of information on enemy air and surface forces and installations. As such, they bridge the gap in coverage between ground- and satellite-based surveillance systems and the targeting systems on combat aircraft. Airborne reconnaissance systems fall into two categories: standoff systems, which operate outside the range of enemy air defenses; and penetrating systems, which are employed within enemy air defense range.

Penetrating systems carry imaging sensors for close-up applications, which make them especially useful for small areas and point targets. At present, most such systems are film cameras carried on reconnaissance-capable fighters. These comparatively unwieldy systems are being phased out of the inventory. By the turn of the century, the penetrator force will consist mostly of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as the Predator employed over the former Republic of Yugoslavia. The current force of F-14 Tactical Aerial Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) aircraft and a small force of Marine F/A-18Ds carrying electro-optical, infrared, and synthetic aperture radar sensors developed under the Advanced Tactical Air Reconnaissance System (ATARS) program will be maintained as a hedge against uncertainties in UAV acquisition. The sensors in the F/A-18D also may be used in the F/A-18 E/F to replace the F-14 TARPS.

Airborne Surveillance and Reconnaissance Forces
(Total Active Inventory) [a]
Standoff FY 1996 Planned FY 2001 Penetrators FY 1996 Planned FY 2001
E-2C Hawkeye 89 79 RF-4C 18 0
E-3B/C AWACS 33 33 F-14 TARPS (Pods) 49 49
E-8C JSTARS 3 20 F/A-18D (RC) 0 31
U-2R/S 32 32 Pioneer 43 20
RC-135V/W Rivet Joint 14 14 Tactical UAV 0 64
EP-3E 12 12 MAE UAV 10 40
ES-3A BGPHES 16 16 HAE UAV 3 14
OV-1D Mohawk 22 0      
RC-12 Guardrail 30 36      
RC-7B 5 6      
NOTE: The force structures shown are for the end of the fiscal years.
[a] Reflects PMAI as well as backup and attrition aircraft and reconstitution reserves.

Standoff systems carry long-range sensors, such as radars and signals intelligence (SIGINT) collectors. These systems provide most of the broad-area information used to assess the progress of a combat operation; they also provide targeting data for ground and naval forces and combat aircraft. The most modern and capable standoff systems will be maintained throughout the program period. These include Navy E-2Cs and Air Force E-3s for airspace surveillance, early warning, and fighter control; U-2s for ground reconnaissance; and RC-135s, EP-3s, ES-3s, and RC-12s for SIGINT. The E-8C, the airborne element of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS), will enter service in 1997. The OV-1D fleet will be phased out entirely in the mid-1990s.

The 1996 Air Force Surveillance and Reconnaissance Mission Area Plan identified a significant inability to support the Defense Planning Guidance precept of two near simultaneous starting major regional conflicts with existing force structure. Assumptions included complementary airborne and spaceborne reconnaissance assets, and Sensitive Reconnaissance Operations (SRO) simultaneous with Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) for two near simultaneous major regional conflicts. There are simply too few airframes, sensors, and ground exploitation systems to support these taskings. This inability to support the warfighting commanders will be further exacerbated by National Command Authorities' requirements levied atop conflict tasking. Secondly, collection technology is progressing ahead of processing, exploitation, and dissemination technologies. This condition is leading to "stove-pipe" architectures with increased risk through reliance on a single node. Failure of the node leaves required data collected, but not exploited and disseminated, depriving the warfighting decision makers of information they must have.

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Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Sunday, January 02, 2000 5:20:34 PM