Electronic Weapons: November 28, 2002


In the 1990s, the U.S. Navy and Air Force agreed to just use the Navy's EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft. The air force would pay for its share of EA-6B operations and maintenance expenses. Thus the EA-6B found itself more frequently operating from land bases, rather than carriers. This also meant that the Navy technicians who maintained the aircraft, and the large quantity of electronics in the aircraft, ended up in places like the Kuwaiti desert, where they maintain EA-6Bs providing support for warplanes operating over the southern no-fly zone in Iraq. Some 60 sailors are stationed there, where they face problem EA-6 technicians haven't had to deal with before. The major problems are heat, and dust. The heat is avoided at sea by putting the electronics technicians, and their equipment, deep inside the carrier. Dust is rarely encountered at sea (unless the carrier is close to a desert coast during a large storm blowing from land to sea.) Keeping the electronic warfare equipment operating is becoming more difficult, as some of it is 1970s vintage stuff. Moreover, the latest upgrade had to be done on the cheap. Good performance was obtained, but money had to be saved on some equipment. For example, instead of building new video displays and controls, it was a lot cheaper and easier to use a ruggedized laptop computer (running the Windows 95 operating system) to do the job. The EA-6 is a relatively small aircraft, but has a crew consisting of one pilot, three electronics warfare officers and a lot of onboard equipment. The latest upgrade eliminated a lot of long time gripes about how data was passed between the three electronics warfare officers. No one wants to spend a lot of money on improving the EA-6B, since it is due to be retired by 2010 (mainly because the 40 year old aircraft are starting to fall apart.) Sadly, though, no one has come up with a replacement that is as effective as the EA-6B. While the aircraft was never designed to operate for long periods in the middle of a desert, it has been able to do so. Combat pilots are going to miss the EA-6B, particularly given the uncertainty about its replacement. 


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