The situation isn't too bad right now, fighting a low-tech foe. But Air Force planners are deeply worried about the future, and the service's abilities to take out enemy radars. The flyboys' airborne electronic attack (AEA) efforts -- zapping opponents' air defenses, with big bursts of radar energy -- are in disarray, reports Air Force magazine."Last year, the Air Force canceled its central AEA program, the B-52 Standoff Jammer." Then, the Air Force was taken off the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System killer drone project, which the Air Force was planning to use "as a radar jammer loitering directly over enemy air defenses. It is no exaggeration to say that the Air Force AEA roadmap, which was years in the making, virtually collapsed."
The Air Force faces a hard deadline for bringing on new operational AEA capability. Since 1999, it has been sharing the Navys four-seat EA-6B Prowler escort jammer aircraft, but the Prowler fleet begins retiring in 2009... For some time, plans have called for USAF by then to be out of the Navys program and fielding its own system.The airborne electronic attack business comprises five primary disciplines, each taking the action progressively closer to the target... [From long-range, stand-off strikes to point-blank jamming to cyber attacks which] cause an enemy radar to think its a washing machine and go into the rinse cycle.The problem is, these are all very different jobs. No single aircraft is going to be able to handle them all. Not a revamped B-52 or F-15E, not the Navy's Prowler $100 million-per-plane replacement, and not even the new F-22 fighters, equipped with next-gen radars.So now the idea is patch together lots and lots of different types of aircraft, including the Joint Strike Fighter and "the Miniature Air-Launched Decoy... a smallish missile that emulates the radar signatures of other aircraft and, it is hoped, will draw the fire of enemy air defenses."There are "so many different components and pieces and parts," one Air Force official tells the magazine. "It gets very complex. ... Its just a matter of what we can afford and what kind of risk will we assume if we dont have all the pieces together."