Electronic Attack Jet Analysis of Alternatives Coming in July

John A. Tirpak

The Defense Department will likely wrap up its analysis of alternatives on a new Penetrating Electronic Attack aircraft within a month, Pentagon electronic warfare guru Bill Conley told attendees at an AFA Mitchell Institute program June 22.

Conley, who’s the deputy director of electronic warfare in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said that while it’s true the PEA will probably “turn into” an Air Force program, the AOA is a joint affair. “We’re answering this question” of stand-in and standoff electronic warfare “holistically, but then it will turn into service-specific investments,” Conley said.

He said he “would personally advocate we move away” from dividing up the mission areas—and responsibilities—for stand-in and standoff EA/EW between the services. He believes it’s likely that tools developed for one mission may work very well in the other, but stovepipes would hinder such applications. The “whole idea … of ‘how dare you come into my cylinder of excellence’ … we need to break away from that,” Conley said.

Retired Gen. Hawk Carlisle said in February he anticipated the Air Force would inherit the stand-in EA mission once the F-35 and PEA are up to speed, and that the Navy would likely get the duty for standoff, regional EA. Carlisle, who was head of Air Combat Command at the time, suggested it’s unlikely the services would undertake another joint aircraft program like the F-35 to meet the requirement.

Conley also said that of DOD’s $70 billion research, development, test, and evaluation budget, $5 billion is going to electronic warfare; roughly a tenth of what the 10 biggest telecom companies spend on ensuring connectivity.

“Candidly, I think we will be outpaced by the commercial world” unless the Pentagon adopts more flexible and adaptive architectures, he said.

Conley noted that adversaries are strong in EW and it is probably unrealistic to expect to achieve “dominance” in spectrum warfare, but that the US should shoot for “superiority” instead.

The writing of doctrine for EW is a “delicate dance,” Conley observed, because it would be easy to be either too prescriptive of how to do it—hampering innovation—and also too easy to be excessively hands-off and allow “25 more years” of uncoordinated effort, which led to the creation of the Pentagon’s Electronic Warfare Executive Committee. Formed in 2015, the committee meets about quarterly and includes heavy hitters from all the services and OSD as well as the chiefs of US Strategic Command and US Cyber Command. Conley said they are collectively working to ensure that EW is an enterprise-wide effort from now on.