Jamming with the B-52s

For months, observers have been predicting big cuts to traditional weapons programs as a result of the Defense Department's 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), due in February. But on Oct. 26, Defense News quoted Ryan Henry, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, saying the QDR would instead focus on how to adapt traditional weapons to nontraditional warfare like that in Iraq. Henry cited the now-cliche example of B-52s dropping satellite-guided bombs over Afghanistan.b52dt.jpgHenry's statement is interesting in light of recent reports from Air Force Times that the EB-52 modification program is on the QDR chopping block. The EB-52 program would modify 16 1962-vintage B-52Hs to carry podded electronic noise jammers to foil air defenses. The first EB-52 would be ready in 2014. Currently the jamming mission is handled by the Navy's 100 or so geriatric EA-6B Prowlers, which are due to be replaced by 90 EA-18Gs in a few years. The EB-52s would give the Air Force an airborne jamming capability it has lacked since retiring the EF-111 in 1998. While standoff jamming is definitely a mission for the kind of high-intensity warfare the Pentagon has been de-emphasizing of late, jammers like the EA-6B have proved adaptable to low-intensity warfare. This year, Prowlers began flying missions over Iraq to jam the signals that detonate IEDs.There's more at stake in the EB-52 program than its relevance to both high-and low-intensity warfare. NATO generals regularly cite airborne jamming as one of Europe's major capability shortfalls. That means the West depends almost entirely on a small number of U.S. jamming aircraft to suppress air defenses in coalition air campaigns like those over Kosovo and Iraq. The EB-52 would do a lot to relieve the pressure on the sure-to-be-overworked EA-18G crews.-- David Axe

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