Electronic Weapons: May 16, 2001


The Pentagon is facing a serious quandary over the issue of electronic warfare gear for fighter aircraft. On the one hand, American industry wants to export the gear, noting that many countries including France, Israel, and Russia are now exporting equipment that exceeds what US companies can legally export. Israel has won orders from Greece and Singapore that US companies had expected to receive, and is now trying to wrap up the Chilean Air Force order. They want to compete in the tougher marketplace. Customers of new jet fighters have noted the recent increase in air defense technology, and are insisting on state-of-the-art jammers and other defensive systems for any fighters they buy (and to add such units to existing aircraft). On the other hand, the Pentagon wants to avoid such exports as the equipment could end up in the hands of enemies, perhaps because of sloppy security by friends. But the Pentagon is also concerned that having a lot of different systems in various NATO air forces could lead to "electronic fratricide" in a future war, where signals from the jammers on one nation's aircraft block the signals on another nation's aircraft. There are so many different kinds of electronic warfare equipment, being added to so many different kinds of aircraft, that no one has any idea what complications could be produced by various combinations. The Air Force is scrambling to get "actual test performance" data on the various third-party electronic warfare systems being marketed so that it can see if there would be any unforeseen consequences, but the foreign manufacturers are understandable reluctant to allow their gear to be thoroughly tested by the US.--Stephen V Cole


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