The USAF’s big gamble with Uncle SAM(s)

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Spotting the Raptor-killing Growler at last week’s Electronic Warfare Appreciation Day at Andrews AFB was highly entertaining, but the event itself was not.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to geek-out in a hangar filled with such Reagan-era EW wonders as the EC-130ECH Compass Call (inside hangar, background) and EC-130J Comando Solo (foreground).

But the irony of any USAF-hosted event branded as an appreciation of jamming technology strikes my nervous system where the fibers for irony and depression intersect.

To come up with such a title, someone in the USAF is either plagued by detached, Kafka-esque cynicism or a preciously naïve optimism.

Indeed, I spoke with an Air Combat Command officer at “EW Appreciation Day” who confirmed a story reported by Inside the Air Force a couple weeks ago and rumored about for months. The USAF has cancelled the core component jammer (CCJ) program, a now defunct antidote for the new breed of low-band early warning and fire control radars proliferating on the market as SA-20 systems.

To be sure, there are other ways to blind a radar than by jamming. The Israelis obviously got the better of Syria’s Iranian-cum-Russian Tor-M1 systems, perhaps by hacking their networks. Likewise, the USAF has Project Suter.

And there are still the traditional options. The AARGM missile loaded on the wing of the displayed EA-18G and a mock-up of Raytheon’s new HDAM missile highlighted the growing prowess of kinetic attack systems.  And a poster next to the EC-130 Compass Call also reminded passers-by how that system will evolve later this year from communications interceptor to makeshift radar jammer.

But notably absent from the displays was the canceled CCJ, and unspoken is the seemingly audacious gamble its cancellation represents. USAF pilots may still train to outmaneuver the SA-2 “flying telephone pole”, but I suspect even their ablest flier can’t defeat the speed and agility of Russia’s double-digit SAMs.

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