Does the RAF Have or Need an Offensive Electronic Warfare Capability

Given Russian and China will sell complex integrated air defence systems to pretty much anyone, or at least use the threat of selling them, it strikes me that the low observability of the F35B and information integration using sources such as Sentinel and Air Seeker might not be enough to ensure success. Each platform like the Typhoon or F35 has its own protection systems but these are focussed on protecting the aircraft so that it can release its weapons and get back to base.

I had  quick read of AP-3000 British Air and Space Doctrine and it covers Electronic Warfare (EW) in a couple of places;

Offensive counter-Air (OCA) Missions. OCA missions are offensive operations aiming to destroy, disrupt or degrade enemy air and missile threats, either by destroying them on the ground, or as close to their source as possible. Such operations may be pre-planned or immediate, and are conducted across enemy territory at the initiative of friendly forces. Pre-planned operations depend on continuous and accurate intelligence, while immediate operations are conducted against unexpected mobile and time-sensitive targets, where there may be only a small window available for attack. OCA includes surface attack operations, air-to-air missions the Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) and Electronic Warfare (EW).

It goes on to define ECM in the context of delivery Air Attack and Information Operations;

Electronic Warfare (EW) seeks control of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, both to enable friendly-force operations, and to deny an enemy the same degree of freedom

There is a lot of joint capability,  the Joint Electronic Warfare Operational Support Centre (JEWOSC) at RAF Waddington, the NATO Joint Electronic Warfare Core Staff (JEWCS) at RNAS Yeovilton and the impressive facilities at RAF Spadeadam.

The RAF Spadeadam website provides a very good definition.

Electronic Warfare, or EW, is military action that involves the use of the electromagnetic spectrum to reduce or prevent the enemy using the electromagnetic spectrum. EW is used to enhance the survivability of aircraft and ground assets and improve mission effectiveness

And then subdivided this further into Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and Electronic Counter Measures (ECM);


Electronic Surveillance Measures (ESM), generally in the form of in-cockpit Radar Warning Receivers, gives aircrew warning of radars that are active in the area. Such Radar Warning Receivers inform aircrew of radar type, mode of operation and relative direction from the aircraft. Aircrew would then decide what Electronic Counter Measures and tactics to use to either avoid or defeat the threat radar.


Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) in the form of jamming or decoys used in association with tactical manoeuvring by aircraft may help to defeat the threat radar. RAF aircraft are equipped with jammers and chaff dispensers both of which are used to for ECM purposes. Chaff, known as Window during World War II, still has capabilities even against modern radar systems. Many aircraft also carry Infra-red flare dispensing systems to defeat Infra-red guided missiles, which home onto hot areas of aircraft such as the engines.

The United States Air Force has a more direct use of language, it defines Electronic Warfare as;

Electronic Warfare (EW) is waged to secure and maintain freedom of action in the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS)

As with the UK, this broad term is further subdivided;

EW consist of three divisions: electronic attack (EA), electronic warfare support (ES), and electronic protection (EP).

These differences are interesting in their own right.

Electronic Attack (EA) is the division of EW involving the use of electromagnetic (EM), directed energy (DE), or antiradiation weapons to attack personnel, facilities, or equipment with the intent of degrading, neutralizing, or destroying enemy operational capability. EA prevents or reduces an enemy’s use of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). It can be accomplished through detection, denial, disruption, deception, and destruction. EA includes lethal attack with assets like high speed antiradiation missiles (HARMs); active applications such as decoys (flares or chaff), EM jamming, and expendable miniature jamming decoys; and employs EM or DE weapons (lasers, radio frequency weapons, particle beams, etc.).  EM jamming and the suppression of enemy air defenses(SEAD) are applications of EA

The aspect that is the main subject of this post is what the USAF called Electromagnetic Jamming.

Electromagnetic Jamming jamming is the deliberate radiation, reradiation, or reflection of EM energy for the purpose of preventing or reducing an enemy’s effective use of the EMS, with the intent of degrading or neutralizing the enemy’s combat capability. Early Air Force EW efforts were primarily directed toward electronically jamming hostile radars to hide the number and location of friendly aircraft and to degrade the accuracy of radar-controlled weapons. Currently, jamming enemy sensor systems can limit enemy access to information on friendly force movements and composition and cause confusion. Jamming can degrade the enemy’s decision-making and implementation process when applied against command and control systems. An adversary heavily dependent on centralized control and execution for force employment presents an opportunity for EA

In equipment terms, the US has a wide variety of equipment, as can be imagined. Not only will the F35 have extensive electronic attack capabilities but they will be joined by equipment such as the newly upgraded Northrop Grumman ALQ-131 EA jammer pod.

ALQ 131

Of course, anything to do with the F35 attracts a great of controversy but I think there has been a general recognition that the F35 will not be ‘enough’ in some circumstances so the US Navy have their F18 Growlers that will be equipped with the very advanced Raytheon Next Generation Jammer replacing the ageing ALQ-99 pods. It is on time and budget so far and is planned for initial operating capability in 2020. Each Growler will have two of the self-contained active electronically scanned pods and what is interesting is the potential for the pod to incorporate cyber warfare and other electronic network intrusion capabilities.

Equally intriguing is its rumoured SIGINT capabilities.

Flight testing has recently taken place on a modified business jet.

Raytheon Next Generation Jammer

Given that the NGJ is a podded solution Raytheon have stated it can be fitted to a wide variety of manned and unmanned aircraft.

We know the UK does not have any plans for equivalents to the MALD decoy and its jamming variant (MALD-J) or something like the EC-130 Compass Call.

So my question is a simple one, in two parts actually.

Does the RAF/RN have anything broadly equivalent to the NGJ or even an aspirational target for ‘electronic attack’ capability that would provide a similar collection of capabilities to the combinations of MALD, NGJ and Compass Call?

If not, is this a serious capability gap against a capable enemy and a future where we might not always be able to rely on Uncle Sam?

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments