Electronic Weapons: August 30, 2001

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The B-1 was a child of the 70s, designed during the Cold War to use electronic warfare and speed to get through massive Soviet air defenses. The Cold War is over and the Soviet era air defenses are gone. But we still have 93 B-1s and there is a proposal to put a third of them in storage. But wait, there are still jobs out there that are not getting done that the B-1 could take care of. The most important one is electronic warfare. After the Gulf War, the EB-111 electronic warfare aircraft (the SparkVarks) were retired. They were expensive to run, but boy did they get the job done. The aging navy EA-6 now does the electronic warfare for everyone's bombing missions. Given the importance of never, ever, losing a warplane in action, the EA-6s are being worked to death. We need more electronic warfare planes. Any other aircraft assigned to electronic warfare needs has to have range, carrying capacity and at least a two man crew. The most likely candidate right now is the F-15E. But this all-weather aircraft is much in demand as a precision bomber. The other candidate, the Navy F-14, is almost as old as the EA-6 and in short supply. That leaves the B-1, which has enormous range, lots of carrying capacity (it could carry EW gear and smart bombs) and is looking for work. And there is other work. The B-1's original mission has not totally disappeared. Many nations have bought up Russian air defense gear cheap and use it to threaten American aircraft. Meanwhile, the Russians continue to develop new stuff, especially items that can help detect stealth aircraft. The B-1 doesn't rely much on stealth. The B-1 is a muscle bird. Speed and electronic weapons are what it uses to reach its target. If you absolutely, positively have to force your way to a target, the B-1 is the way to do it. B-52s are too vulnerable and B-2s are too valuable. Hey, if we're planning on retiring B-1s, we can afford to lose them in combat. But B-1s are tough and the crew is well protected. While expensive to operate, the new national strategies emerging call for more use of long range airpower. While you may not need another heavy bomber, you definitely could use an EB-1. 

 


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