The history of warfare is often described as a struggle between the offense
and the defense. That's a fine framework, if you like football. But there may
be better ways of thinking about warfare in the information age.
Perhaps the real military struggle today is between awareness and deception.
Each side in a conflict strives to learn as much as possible about an adversary's
location, leaders, capabilities, strategy and tactics-while at the same time
denying the enemy information about friendly forces.
The effort to gain superior awareness or "knowledge dominance" in
combat is as old as warfare itself. But in an era of multispectral sensors,
instant communications and precision munitions, dominant knowledge may mean
quick, decisive victory, while inferior awareness may mean rapid, crushing defeat.
It is not enough, however, to know the enemy. It is equally important that the
enemy not know you. Those twin imperatives of modern warfare are the rationale
for the burgeoning mission area of "information operations."
The United States has been engaged in at least one form of information warfare
for more than half a century. Since the advent of radar in the late 1930s, U.S.
airborne forces have played a cat-and-mouse game of countermeasures and counter-countermeasures
that has come to be known as electronic warfare (EW). For a variety of bureaucratic
and doctrinal reasons, the armed services today prefer to differentiate electronic
and information warfare. But from a purely practical perspective, it is obvious
that EW has always been about controlling the electromagnetic spectrum in wartime
so that we can know the enemy better than he knows us.
Italian air-power theorist Guilio Douhet wrote in his hugely influential treatise,
"The Command of the Air," published in 1921, that a prime reason why
he believed offensive aircraft would revolutionize warfare was the impossibility
of knowing all the possible routes they might use to approach intended targets.
Douhet's argument became the wisdom in Europe during the inter-war years, which
explains why British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin warned his countrymen in
1932 that "the bomber will always get through."
Fortunately for Britain, the invention of radar on the eve of World War II
deprived air power of its most critical advantage-surprise-and thus enabled
a relatively small defensive force of fighters to prevail in the Battle of Britain.
Since that time, it has been apparent to military planners that the success
of air campaigns depended upon suppressing enemy defensive sensors while exploiting
similar technology, such as precision seekers, for offensive purposes.
In the early years, foiling enemy defenses involved simple techniques such
as flying below radar horizons or filling the sky with a blizzard of reflective
chaff. But during the Cold War, electronic warfare became an increasingly more
complex task of lethal and non-lethal defense suppression, employing sophisticated
skills and equipment.
The main reason why electronic warfare grew so complicated was that defenders
learned how to adapt to various strategies. Radars became more powerful, more
discriminating and more agile. Command and control networks became more resilient
and responsive. Surface-to-air missiles became smarter and more numerous. Each
time America fought an air campaign-in Korea, in Vietnam, in the Persian Gulf-potential
adversaries learned new ways of coping with U.S. EW methods, forcing the Pentagon
to come up with more clever electronic counters. From this perspective, low
observables (stealth) are just one in a series of measures conceived to preserve
But stealth in its early years was sometimes oversold as a revolutionary alternative
to EW. So its fielding at the end of the Cold War led to a neglect of electronic-warfare
missions and technologies. This problem was most apparent in the Air Force,
which decided-despite the critical importance of EW in Operation Desert Storm-to
retire its EF-111 Raven and F-4G Wild Weasel electronic-warfare aircraft in
the 1990s. The jamming mission migrated to the Navy's EA-6B Prowler.
Today, there are 124 EA-6B Prowlers organized in 19 squadrons-10 carrier-based,
eight expeditionary (land-based) and one reserve. The Prowler has proved indispensable
in a series of air campaigns such as Operations Northern and Southern Watch
to enforce Iraqi no-fly zones, and Operation Allied Force against Yugoslavia.
It is rare for U.S. planes to enter hostile air space anywhere in the world
without standoff jamming provided by the Prowler. In the Kosovo operation, even
stealthy strike aircraft were supported by the Prowler, and the loss of a U.S.
combat plane-an F-117 stealth fighter-was directly attributable to lack of adequate
But if Kosovo reinforced the importance of electronic warfare, it also underscored
just how neglected EW assets have become. There were so few EA-6Bs available
worldwide to support the Balkan air war that Prowlers were shifted out of Northeast
Asia and the Persian Gulf region, leaving those areas temporarily uncovered.
Even instructors from the Prowler's home base at Whidbey Island, Wash., had
to be deployed.
The simple truth is that America's airborne electronic-warfare forces are overworked
and under-funded. To make matters worse, they are beginning to show their age.
The average Prowler is nearly 20 years old, and no new airframes have been produced
in a decade. It's time to move on to a new airframe, but steps must be taken
to preserve EW capabilities until a platform is selected and operational sometime
in the next decade.
An advanced digital EW architecture for the next-generation support jammer
called ICAP-3 soon will be operational, and initially will be deployed on Prowlers
before it transitions to more modern aircraft. But there is a host of other
EW-related shortfalls that must be addressed-from better connectivity to more
precise anti-radar munitions to night-vision devices for pilots. The armed forces
cannot continue to neglect these needs.
That is the reason why members of the House of Representatives have established
an Electronic Warfare Working Group. The working group was conceived as a task
force to assure greater congressional understanding and oversight of electronic-warfare
systems and missions. The performance of U.S. forces in Operation Allied Force
made clear that Congress and the Pentagon need to pay closer attention to electronic
warfare, not just because it is a high-leverage war-fighting skill, but also
because of the strides other nations are making in that arena. America cannot
maintain its military edge unless it continues to control the electromagnetic
Joseph R. Pitts is a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and is co-chairman
of the Electronic Warfare Working Group in the U.S. Congress. He is a member
of the Defense Advisory Board of the Lexington Institute.