Since the Air Force retired its EF-111 platforms in the 1990s, the service has not flown a dedicated standoff/escort electronic attack aircraft. But at NAS Whidbey Island, Wash., a group of electronic warfare officers continues flying the mission, partnering with the Navy to carry out EA-6B Prowler and now EA-18 Growler operations. “We’re the only tactical [Air Force electronic warfare] game in town here,” said Lt. Col. Karl Fischbach, 390th Electronic Combat Squadron commander at Whidbey Island, in a late June interview. The unit places Air Force EWOs in the back of Navy Prowlers and Growlers and serves as the Air Force component of the US military’s joint electronic attack program. While at one time Air Force pilots used to fly in the exchange program, since 2005, the Air Force supplies only EWOs. Currently the 390th ECS has 13 EWOs supporting six squadrons at Whidbey Island, but the numbers are in flux as the two-seat Growlers come online, replacing the four-seat Prowlers. After input from theater commanders, the Navy decided to stand up its first three Growler squadrons as land-based expeditionary units and not as part of carrier air wings, noted Fischbach.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.