21 January 2010

In electronic warfare, often the most effective countermeasure to the enemy's attempts at jamming and deception is a well-trained radio or radar operator. Throughout the 1950s as electronic warfare took on added importance during the Cold War, it was difficult at best to get training time on operational ECM systems. Most operational systems were strictly allocated to front-line units and often were scarce as new systems were constantly being developed and entered into service to meet new Soviet threats. As most operational systems were designed specifically to counter Soviet systems, those operational units couldn't be tested or trained since there were no Soviet examples available for training purposes- obviously!

Some units elected to train against US systems (often the service branches might train against each other), but an operational EW system had to be modified to work against US systems for the duration of the exercise and it was often said the surest way to make an electronic warfare system unserviceable was to take it out of the aircraft and put it back in again.

Peacetime exercises often were of limited value due to interservice rivalries. During one exercise in the 1950s in which SAC's B-47 Stratojets were to attempt to penetrate the US air defenses of New England (made up of Army missile units and USAF Air Defense Command interceptor aircraft), the Stratojet crews were instructed to "go easy" on the ADC fighters and "plaster" the Army missile units. The proper training of operators to deal with enemy electronic warfare and countermeasures requires that the students undergo a series of increasingly difficult scenarios rather than overwhelm them outright.

The US Navy was the first to recognize this need and in 1957 created a unit dedicated to creating a realistic ECM environment for training the fleet. Four Grumman TF-1 (redesignated C-1A after 1962) Traders that were usually used for carrier on-board delivery missions were modified into airborne jamming simulators. With a crew of five that included two pilots and three ECM operators, the TF-1s were crammed full of electronic warfare equipment as well as equipment for analyzing and grading the responses of the units being trained.

The weight of all the equipment was so great that the TF-1Q, as it was designated, was too heavy to operate safely from carriers and its range suffered as well. But this was of little issue to the Navy as the TF-1Qs were to be shore based and train fleet personnel in US waters. The first unit was VAW-35 based in NAS North Island in San Diego before the aircraft were split up with two TF-1Qs based at NAS Alameda with VAW-13 to work with the Pacific Fleet and two TF-1Qs were based at NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island with VAW-33 to work with the Atlantic Fleet. In the years that followed, the TF-1Qs (redesignated EC-1A after 1962) were worked hard acting as enemy "Red" forces for carrier battle groups preparing to deploy overseas.

The value provided by a dedicated electronic aggressor force was such that the Navy in 1969 established the Fleet Electronic Warfare Support Group made up of the squadrons VAQ-34 "Flashbacks" and VAQ-33 "Firebirds" by which time the FEWSG operated a variety of aircraft as well as civilian contractor aircraft to provide the most realistic training environment for the Navy, a mission that continues to this day.

Source: The History of U.S. Electronic Warfare, Volume II- The Renaissance Years, 1946-1964 by Alfred Price. The Association of Old Crows/Port City Press, 1989, p203-205.

1 comment:

  1. There was also a group of sailors who took electronic suites on ships and shore stations for training and fleet exercises.